Joseph G. Michaels
Hometown: Grinnell, IowaLaw School: University of IowaLive in: Denver, ColoradoWorks at: Colorado Attorney General’s Office Practice Areas(s): Appellate, Criminal, Juvenile, LegislativeCBA Member Since: 2008
Joseph Michaels is a senior assistant attorney general and the vice chair of the Colorado Lawyer Advisory Board.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Learning is a lifelong pursuit.
And the worst advice?
It doesn’t bear repeating!
What do you like best about your practice area?
The mental/academic rigor to appellate practice. Even run-of-the-mill cases bring unique challenges, and it’s a privilege to be able to engage in constitutional challenges and novel questions of statutory interpretation.
What is one of the most positive experiences you’ve had as a lawyer?
I was working on an emotional and challenging appeal. The victim’s family showed up unexpectedly at oral argument, and we had a long debrief after. They were profusely thankful and it was inspiring talking with them, yet I couldn’t help but think how backward that was. It reminded me of the legal system’s great emphasis on those intertwined with it and how, at heart, it is a service industry. That experience—and others like it—underscores the responsibility we bear as lawyers.
Outside the law, what are your hobbies?
I like to hike, write, run, read, and swim, as well as watch films, enjoy coffee, and spend time with my family. In these times, some are more feasible than others.
Who’s your favorite writer and why?
I’m going to cheat and give several: I was an English major undergrad, so this is a big question! I still enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald, who did things with the English language few have done before or after him. That said, I always look forward to novels by Michael Ondaatje, who has a unique lyricism to his writing. And then there’s John Williams—no, not the composer, but the Colorado writer who quietly authored three books in his lifetime to little fanfare but much critical acclaim (and that are all excellent, particularly Butcher’s Crossing). Next, by framing Between the World and Me as a letter to his adolescent son, Ta-Nehisi Coates sharply, but accessibly, challenges the reader as a proxy recipient to grapple with the impact of racism on generations. Finally, Carson McCullers was only 23—23!—when she wrote her masterpiece, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
What’s your favorite spot in Colorado?
Four-plus miles in and until the road ends on Chaffee County Road 390, right off US 24 between Leadville and Buena Vista, particularly toward the abandoned town of Winfield. The road provides access to no fewer than nine of Colorado’s highest 100 (aka “centennial”) peaks, plus a gaggle of other great 13ers and high basins; a broad stream winding along below the dirt road’s southern edge; crisp air; and views beyond what words can rightly describe. There are plenty of other favorites, but it’s hard to argue with the scenery and access here.
What’s the last movie you watched:
In theaters? Parasite. It’s a perfect argument for international film—modern or otherwise. Its themes run deep, and its tension and humor (razor sharp) bypass the “one-inch” subtitles. On “video”: Network. It’s an acerbic satire about a news anchor having a nervous breakdown that presaged modern reality television and bemoaned the watering down of substantive discourse.
Who is your hero and why?
My parents. I have never encountered more tireless, intelligent, principled, selfless people. Couldn’t have asked for better role models.