DENVER - After 26 years fighting to expand and protect Coloradans' civil rights and civil liberties, Mark Silverstein, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado, has announced his upcoming retirement. He will stay on the job while the organization conducts a national search for a new Legal Director and will then assume a new role as Legal Director Emeritus.
Silverstein has been an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union for 31 years. He was named Legal Director in Colorado in 1996 after five years as a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.
During Silverstein’s tenure, the ACLU of Colorado legal team, bolstered by scores of volunteer attorneys, has litigated hundreds of cases to defend and expand the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Coloradans. These cases challenged a myriad of abuses of power at all levels of Colorado government, targeting racial profiling, illegal searches, groundless arrests, police beatings, and arbitrary deprivations of liberty, while fighting for free expression, government transparency, religious freedom, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ rights.
ACLU of Colorado’s litigation has fought back on behalf of people who are incarcerated, people who are undocumented, people of color, people experiencing homelessness, and people with low income caught up in the spiral of fines and fees in the criminal justice system. In addition, the ACLU of Colorado’s legal advocacy has, without resorting to litigation, often persuaded government officials to rescind or repeal a challenged policy, practice, or ordinance.
“Mark has long been known as one of the most effective lawyers in the ACLU,” said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “He's everything you could ever want in a colleague: smart, collaborative, hardworking, and fiercely dedicated to the clients we serve. We are deeply grateful for all that he's done to defend the rights of incarcerated people, and of all people, over the course of his long and distinguished career.”
One of Silverstein’s memorable cases was the ACLU’s class action challenge to the Denver police “Spy Files.” The ACLU uncovered evidence that the Denver Police Department’s “Intelligence Unit” was collecting information about the expressive activities of peaceful protesters, monitoring the activities of law-abiding advocacy groups, and then labeling them in police files as “criminal extremists.” A settlement ended the decades-long practice.
Another class action lawsuit charged the El Paso County Sheriff with violating Colorado law by refusing — at the request of federal immigration authorities — to release prisoners who had posted bond. After the ACLU obtained a permanent injunction, the legislature adopted the court’s ruling by enacting a statute that now forbids all Colorado sheriffs from engaging in the once-common warrantless practice.
In additional notable cases during Silverstein’s two and a half decades, the ACLU legal team:
- Challenged the Douglas County School District’s plan to use taxpayer funds to subsidize parents sending their children to religious schools, in violation of the state Constitution;
- Defended the rights of protesters when Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2008;
- Secured live-saving antiviral medication for incarcerated people and Medicaid recipients suffering from Hepatitis C;
- Sued the GEO immigration detention facility in Aurora for the wrongful death of Kamyar Samimi;
- Successfully sued the Weld County District Attorney for engineering an illegal search of the confidential papers of thousands of Weld County residents.
Most recently, after a three-week trial, a jury heard the ACLU of Colorado’s groundbreaking lawsuit against the City and County of Denver. It found that Denver police violated the constitutional rights of a dozen people who were peacefully protesting the murder of George Floyd during the summer of 2020. The jury awarded $14 million in damages.
“The ACLU of Colorado would not exist as it does today without Mark’s unwavering commitment to civil liberties and the fight for justice for the past 26 years,” said ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Deborah Richardson. “We are so grateful Mark has agreed to continue on in an emeritus status, to continue to provide inspiration and counsel to the organization.”
“Working as an ACLU lawyer and Legal Director is one of the very best jobs an attorney could have,” said Silverstein. “It has been a privilege and a lucky break for me to get to spend so many years working in an organization filled with so many dedicated civil libertarians and alongside some of the most talented lawyers in Colorado and in the country.”