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AG weighs in on Lobato case

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 5th, 2011

ALAMOSA — In town for a justice symposium at Adams State College, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers talked about recent and ongoing cases including Lobato v. Colorado, which is now awaiting a judicial ruling.

The case, which originated with San Luis Valley plaintiffs, involved a five-week trial that concluded last month. The challenge to Colorado’s educational system is now in the hands of Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport.

Suthers’ legal team represented the State of Colorado during the trial.

“We are awaiting a ruling from the court,” Suthers said while in Alamosa on Tuesday.

He said he did not think this was an issue that should have gone to trial.

He said when Colorado became a state in 1876, it was required by the federal government to set up a public education system because the federal government determined all states should have free public education.

In setting up its system, Colorado stated it would provide “thorough and uniform free public education.”

The plaintiffs in the Lobato case maintained Colorado was not providing “thorough and uniform” system for all students, including those in the San Luis Valley schools.

Suthers said he believed this was a political issue for the legislature to resolve, not the courts.

The Lobato case originated in 2005 and in 2006 Denver District Judge Michael Martinez ruled against the plaintiffs, with the Colorado Court of Appeals upholding the district court decision in 2008.

However, in 2009 the Colorado Supreme Court overturned the previous rulings and sent the case to district court for trial.

“I still feel very strongly that this is not a question a district judge should be deciding,” Suthers said.

He also argued that the state spends about the same per student throughout the state, with rural and some urban schools actually receiving more per student; and states that have increased funding for education have not necessarily seen an improvement in classroom performance.

Another case in which Suthers has been involved is even more high profile. Suthers was one of the first attorney generals to challenge the constitutionality of national health care legislation. Suthers said this is not an issue about health care as much as it is an issue over whether the government can order U.S. citizens to buy a product, namely health insurance.

“I have always said it’s going to be one of the most important decisions in probably 50 years,” Suthers said. “It will have interesting ramifications.”

He said if the government could make people buy health insurance and punish them if they do not, the government could require other purchases.

“It’s a big case,” Suthers said.

He serves on a five-member executive committee in charge of the case and will be one of the lead attorneys to argue the case when it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, presumably its next stop.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a U.S. District Court ruling that Congress does not have the authority to impose an individual health insurance mandate on U.S. citizens.

The federal government may request either that the 11th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case.

Colorado is one of 28 states participating in this lawsuit.

Suthers said his office is involved in numerous other legal actions and tries to assist district attorneys when needed throughout the state, including the 12th Judicial District (the Valley.)

He said his office is also working well with Governor John Hickenlooper.

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