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The Colorado Life Agrees With Public Defender Doug Wilson, ’81

Colorado State Public Defender Doug Wilson told his mother that he was going to be an attorney and represent poor people in Colorado when he was 10 years old… or at least that’s the story his mother tells. Whether it’s the truth or an urban legend, Wilson now supervises the 21 offices that make up the Colorado State Public Defender after spending 28 years doing criminal defense work in the state.

From small-town London, Ohio Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Eastern Kentucky University in 1978. After a short stint working in the business world to pass the time before entering law school, Wilson moved back to his home state to enjoy in-state tuition and close Ohio family ties at UC Law. His love of Skyline Chili was the cherry on top. He only once examined his choice to attend UC Law as he took his evidence exam in the library accompanied by the sound of constant jack hammering due to renovations of the building.

Timing Is Everything

During law school, Wilson worked for the Public Defender’s Office in Hamilton County during the summer following his second year. Based on good timing and a student practice license, Wilson found himself in a “unique situation.” In the fall of 1980 in preparation for a major overhaul of the public defender system in Hamilton County, salaries at the Public Defender’s Office were reduced and many attorneys left. Wilson was hired by the office at that point during his third year of law school and granted academic leave to complete his studies. In January 1981, though, the office implemented additional changes and Wilson had to look elsewhere for job prospects. Receiving an offer for employment by the Colorado Public Defender’s Office in the spring of 1981, Wilson graduated and immediately moved to Denver to begin work.

Life in Private Practice

In 1985, Wilson began private practice where he remained until 1992. His criminal defense work continued as about half of his practice constituted court appointed indigent defense. The other half of the time, Wilson worked in the area of personal injury. It was in 1985 that Wilson met and married his wife Christy Naranjo, whom he met at work in Pueblo, Colorado following his transfer to that area of county.

A Return to PD Work

It wasn’t long before Wilson returned to the Public Defender’s office. In 1992, he became the head of the office in Pueblo, Colorado and began doing death penalty work across the state. In 2005, he was appointed to the position of Chief Trial Deputy in Denver and focused the scope of his work entirely on death penalty work.

Shorty after this 2006 appointment,  Wilson was asked to step in as the State Public Defender in charge of the entire system of 534 employees and 21 offices across the state. He gladly took the position and although he misses the time spent in the courtroom he realizes how important his new responsibilities are. “I’m in charge of hiring new folks and dealing with the legislature,” he explained. It’s not quite as simple as it may sound at first. These responsibilities include traveling across the state once a year on a road trip to visit the Western offices in addition to an intense interview schedule of prospective candidates from November until January. “I’ve probably done about 100 interviews so far this year,” he explained. From January to May he spends at least 3 days a week at the capitol building testifying in front of the House and Senate Judiciary committee regarding bills that could either benefit or hurt the office’s clients. Meetings, trainings, and conferences are sprinkled in for good measure.

In his free time, Wilson enjoys spending time with his wife and two Keeshonds Osita (meaning “little bear” in Spanish) and Oreo. He enjoys the occasional golf or fly fishing outing noting “that’s pretty much the extent of my physical ability at my age.”