Lawyers of the Year 2021: Timothy Macdonald

Patrick Shelby

“Multiple layers of complexity” can describe Timothy Macdonald, a partner with Arnold & Porter’s Denver office. In his 25 years of experience as a high-stakes commercial trial and appellate lawyer, he has handled multi-layered cases in many of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and State Supreme Courts. 

Due to the uncertainties of the pandemic, 2021 has been a tumultuous year for many.  People were required to confront professional and personal challenges. The adversity also provided a meaningful opportunity for inspired growth at home and in the community, Macdonald said. 

He proudly described pro bono, a core value trait to Macdonald and his colleagues, as “zealously advocating.” 

“I think it’s an obligation all of us have as lawyers, and as humans, to give back to our community, particularly those of us who are privileged and fortunate enough to work in law firms and have the opportunity to represent folks that are disadvantaged,” Macdonald said. 

Macdonald spent a significant portion of 2021 working on multiple pro bono cases at the heart of today’s important public policy debates, including cases involving racial equity and police brutality, gun control, immigration and access to justice.

“I represented the city of Boulder in the defense of their assault weapon and high-capacity magazine statute that sought to create some common-sense gun control,” Macdonald said. He praised his colleagues for their work on the two lawsuits in federal and state court.

Macdonald served as lead counsel, in cooperation with the American Civil Liberty Union of Colorado, for a number of individuals who were shot by “less lethal” weapons or attacked by police during protests in Denver.

“These were your folks who went out to protest, to try and make sure that our society appreciated the Black Lives Matter [movement] and they put themselves on the line. I sometimes start to tear up thinking about the clients we’re representing who get shot by rubber bullets or sprayed in the face with chemical munitions and [were] going out day after day to make our community better. I think it’s an incredible privilege for me to represent them,” Macdonald reflected.

The George Floyd protesters had a profound impact on him, which was also a topic of discussion with his three kids, ages eight to 14, around Macdonald’s dinner table.

Macdonald praised the civil rights case, protestors and his clients’ passionate activism for change. They got their message to state officials who enacted legislation and changed some police practices, he said. “Those folks inspired me and I learned a lot from them.”

Since 2007, Macdonald has been recognized by Chambers USA as a leading lawyer for business litigation in Colorado.

In 2021, Macdonald successfully represented the Garfield Board of County Commissioners in several precedent-setting lawsuits in state and federal courts. The cases were filed in 2019 based on the county’s regulatory authority over a limestone quarry operated by Rocky Mountain Industrials, Inc. on Transfer Trail north of Glenwood Springs.

RMI sought to preempt the county’s right to impose environmental regulations on the mine, which operates under a U.S. Bureau of Land Management lease and permits. RMI resisted county notices of violations that were imposed when the operator refused to comply with regulations.

“It’s really the exact kind of case that I love to work on because it’s multi-layered. You have state law issues, you have federal law issues, you have lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions, so there’s a high level of complexity,” Macdonald said.

After litigation in both state and federal court, Macdonald and his team obtained a summary judgment in the state court case affirming the county’s regulatory authority and the violations imposed on the mine. The case is now on appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Macdonald was also successful in getting the federal case stayed and then dismissed on federal abstention grounds. 

“You really feel like you’re representing the people. You’re representing the community and obviously trying, in that case, to affirm that they have authority to regulate those environmental regulations that benefit people in the county,” Macdonald said.

Adding another layer to the county’s regulatory judiciary proceedings, the mine operator moved forward with its plans to expand operations in the county. Local officials believe current mine activities are also in violation of federal law.

Macdonald and the Arnold & Porter team intervened in a second federal lawsuit against the U.S. government and Bureau of Land Management. In this case, the county alleged that the federal government failed to comply with its obligations to regulate the mine under federal laws. Macdonald successfully prevented the government’s attempt to prevent jurisdictional discovery and is challenging the government’s continued efforts to dismiss this case. 

“You’re really having to put together a team of people that can cover federal court litigation, state court litigation, the intersection of municipal law, environmental regulations, state and federal laws on mining regulation. So, it really takes a complete team and I’m really lucky because I have a fabulous group of people that I get to work with every day,” Macdonald said.

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