Chris Melcher has practiced law and held corporate counsel positions nationwide since graduating from Yale Law School in 1986. But he'd neither served as a legal adviser to a government agency, nor been introduced to Colorado Springs at large, before Mayor Steve Bach appointed him city attorney in September 2011.
In a statement, Bach says he'd never met Melcher but chose him to replace Patricia Kelly (who was retiring) based on a recommendation from former Colorado College president Dick Celeste and "several leading attorneys in the city." Melcher was serving as the college's chief legal officer at the time. He was also volunteering as the Downtown Development Authority's chairman of the board.
Bach says Melcher's Yale degree also figured into his decision, as did Melcher's stint with the Office of Independent Counsel in Washington, D.C., and jobs with "prestigious corporations with complex operations."
After law school, Melcher worked as a law clerk in San Francisco. In September 1987, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, he went to Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, a Washington, D.C., law firm. (In December 2012, Melcher hired the firm, now named WilmerHale, to handle a lawsuit against the city over early payoff of Memorial Hospital bonds, and a federal lawsuit over the panhandling ordinance. The firm's "not to exceed" figure is $937,000.)
In March 1990, he took a job as associate independent counsel with the Office of Independent Counsel in Washington, D.C., where he stayed for nearly five years — one of his lengthiest tenures.
In January 1995, Melcher moved to Brownstein Hyatt & Farber. (Melcher hired the firm, now named Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, within two weeks of starting his city job, and has since retained the firm for work involving Memorial Hospital, Springs Transit and Colorado Springs Utilities, among other issues. The contracts are worth a total of more than a quarter of a million dollars.)
From July 1996 to September 1997, he served as senior regulatory counsel with Southern California Edison, and then moved to KN Energy, based in Lakewood, where he provided legal services on "regulated and unregulated market activities and directing corporate strategy in federal and state proceedings," according to the SEC.
The SEC filing reports that in January 1999, Melcher moved to Internet Commerce & Communications as vice president of law and policy, general counsel and corporate secretary. In August 2000, he was named executive vice president of strategic development, general counsel and corporate secretary.
In 2001, according to his résumé, Melcher joined Qwest Communications, Denver, as executive director for policy and law responsible for municipal relationships. While there, he filed comments in communications cases in which he complained about local regulation.
For example, in a Dec. 19, 2001, filing with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Melcher, working along side Wilmer Cutler lawyers also representing Qwest, wrote that "the most pernicious — but certainly not the only — forms of municipal interference with national policy favoring deployment of communications facilities are the attempts to extract exorbitant fees from carriers for the use of public rights-of-way."
He also worked on a case before the California Public Utilities Commission, along with other communications companies. One of them was AT&T, represented by Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, of San Francisco. (Melcher has hired that firm, which has 18 offices worldwide and is now named Sidley Austin, in an agreement dated Jan. 17 for "case analysis, settlement negotiations, and serving as lead counsel in litigation should the Sierra Club file suit ... regarding Drake and Nixon [power] plants." The contract contains a "not to exceed" figure of $1 million.)
In 2003, Melcher became vice president of law and public policy for Adelphia Communications in West Palm Beach, Fla. In 2006, he joined Colorado College as its chief legal officer; as of 2011, his compensation, with benefits, totaled $205,817, according to IRS records.
When that position was targeted for elimination, Melcher accepted Bach's offer of $183,736 a year, and a monthly car allowance of $706. His salary today is $187,529.
Asked about his hiring of firms as city attorney that he's worked for in the past, Melcher writes that he worked for Wilmer Cutler and Brownstein many years ago, and adds, "They are both nationally renowned firms with extraordinary lawyers, and were selected for their work on an objective and competitive basis."