DBA Member Highlight: Michael Stafford

10-Q

1. Why did you become a lawyer?
I tell people it’s because I can’t sing and dance well enough to make a living at it (ha-ha). Realistically, my Aunt Dorothy was a paralegal before there were such folks as paralegals, and she was a great source of inspiration for me. My sense of justice stems from a very early age.

2. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My father always told me, “Find something that you’re good at and stick with it!” Hopefully, that’s what I’ve accomplished.

3. What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your work as an Assistant City Attorney for the City and County of Denver?
I started out with the Denver City Attorney’s Office working on dependency and neglect cases, so I was dealing with children in dire need of a positive change of direction in their respective lives. Then I worked in child support enforcement and later transferred over to the Mental Health Unit. It’s rewarding to know that I have bettered people’s lives in one manner or another. That’s what makes my internal motor rev.

4. How do you de-stress?
Don’t tell my orthopedic surgeons, but I still lift weights at least four days per week.

5. How did you get involved in helping those with eating disorders?
If you had asked me that question seven or eight years ago, that is something that would have drawn a blank stare from me. I had no background in the treatment of eating disorders. Neither did any other attorney in Colorado. The Eating Recovery Center, possibly the preeminent eating disorder treatment facility in the world, opened in Denver. At first, they could only treat patients voluntarily. So, they contacted me and asked me about the “designation” process wherein a treatment facility becomes “designated” by the Colorado Department of Human Services to treat people involuntarily in accordance with C.R.S. Title 27, Article 65. I put the staff at the Eating Recovery Center in touch with staff at the Colorado Department of Human Services, and we “got the ball rolling.”

6. What were some of the challenges involved in being the first attorney in the Colorado to obtain a court order for the involuntary treatment of a patient diagnosed with an eating disorder?
The first Title 27, Article 65 certification case in Colorado was out of Denver Probate Court — right after the Eating Recovery Center was “designated” by the Colorado Department of Human Services for the involuntary treatment of people. I found language in the rules/regulations that seemed to allow for insertion of the feeding tube, and the Denver Probate Court judge agreed with my analysis, as did the Colorado Court of Appeals. A few years later, a request for a jury trial was made by a respondent with an eating disorder, and the staff at the Eating Recovery Center told me that they checked nationally with the eating disorder treatment community and that no other jurisdiction had ever been involved in a jury trial. So, there was a fair amount of pressure to win that case. People with eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Literally, every trial involving an eating disorder is a matter of life and death.

7. What is your biggest pet peeve?
The politics that cause the mental health treatment system to have to operate in an under-resourced manner. It takes time and resources to help these people.

8. If you could change anything about Denver, what would it be?
Traffic (ha-ha).

9. If you could be a superhero, who would you be and why?
A former paralegal of mine gave me a tie with the “Superman” symbol on it. (I don’t have it anymore.) Realistically, I am a firm believer in the quote attributed to Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I don’t think that you need to be a superhero to make a difference.

10. If you weren’t a lawyer, you’d be:
A college strength and conditioning coach. I was “bitten” by the weightlifting bug 40+ years ago and just never got over it — even after multiple orthopedic surgeries. D

Editor’s Note: Do you know a DBA member who should be featured? Email nominations to Jessica Volz at jvolz@cobar.org.

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