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Alumni profile - Matt Soper

Wed 1 January 2020

Rep Matthew Soper

Matt Soper, LLM, 2008 & Grad LLB, 2010

Why did you choose the Edinburgh Law School for your LLB and LLM?

After graduating from undergrad at Colorado Mesa University, I knew I wanted to study in the United Kingdom. In 2007, I took a trip to Great Britain to scout universities and to attend a wedding in Edinburgh. A group of students at the wedding showed me around the university and the city and I instantly fell in love with Edinburgh. I had been considering a couple of English universities outside of London, but ultimately the University of Edinburgh was the only institution I applied to, as I knew that is where I wanted to study. I liked the international reputation of the University of Edinburgh, the feel of Old College, and the charm of the city.

My path in law and politics has been fairly non-traditional, as I earned my LLM prior to earning my LLB. Originally, I had planned on only one degree from Edinburgh University, but wanted to continue my time in Scotland and my pursuit of law. Being accepted into the LLB program allowed me to stay and to read law. The three and a half years I spent in Edinburgh were the best and I think fondly of my uni days. Upon returning to the US, I earned an American law degree from the University of New Hampshire. While I never practiced law in the UK, the foundation in law is incredibly valuable.

What are some of your memories of your time at the Law School? How did your experience differ between LLB and LLM?

I recall spending hours and hours reading in Old College and the Main Library. The friendships and adventures with friends are what really come to mind. Often a group of us would have a pint or two at the Advocate, Doctors, or Brass Monkey, often continuing the conversation begun in our tutorials or seminars. Being an international student, I tried to share my culture from the US. One Thanksgiving, I attempted to buy a turkey and after many failures, a meat shop was able to specially order one; the only problem was my oven was too small! A friend helped out and we had an epic meal. We had many dinners at each other’s flats on the weekends and it was an experience of a lifetime to get to make friends from around the globe.

The LLB was pretty intense. There were a lot of cases and law to memorize. I tended to have a lot more Scottish and English and friends from the Commonwealth during the LLB, as opposed to the LLM where the majority of my classmates were from all over the world.

Another memory which stands out was watching Iain Macwhirter installed as rector. As luck would have it I ended up being invited to a reception and visiting with then-Chancellor HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. To this day, it is still surreal to recall that conversation.

The LLM and LLB complimented each other. The LLM was more research-based and academic in terms of pondering great ideas. The LLB was all about getting through a ton of information and being able to talk on the subjects during tutorials. One night in 2008, I had been studying late in the graduate computer lab in Old College. I walked out the door near the South Bridge entrance only to realize the gate was closed and locked. At that time there wasn’t a swipe lock and I couldn’t get back inside the school to properly exit on Chambers Street. I ended up calling the police and having to explain I was locked inside Old College, but outside. It was quite embarrassing, but the story has garnered many laughs over the years.

Especially during the summer and autumn, I played lots of tennis at the Meadows. Friends and I would play doubles; sometimes singles when the weather was good, then we’d rushed back inside to study when the weather changed. On the topic of sports, a group of us law students rode our bikes one weekend to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It didn’t take long to realize my three speed bike was a single speed, as I was coasting down a hill I hit a stone and went flying off my bike. This was my experience seeing the local A&E. The doctor and nurse patched me up and we were off to the borders. The day felt like journey of monumental proportions. I will never forget my last bike ride in Edinburgh. I rode up to Calton Hill and looked out over the city – there will always be a big place in my heart for Edinburgh.

How do you think your studies at the Law School helped you get to the Colorado House of Representatives?

Studying law at Edinburgh has been a tremendous asset as a member of the Colorado House of Representatives. Edinburgh taught me how to think and a different way of studying than is typical in the United States. The rich, deep history of seeing how law developed in Rome and how it was received in Scotland have proven useful as legal debates are recycled from one generation to the next; each having to justify keeping or expanding a rule.

As a legislator, I have used old law text books as a resource; even though the laws may be different, the legal concepts are valuable to use during debates and to see if there is a better way to word a bill or amendment.

What inspired you to go into politics?

Public service, not politics is what inspired me to enter the realm of elective office. It is an awesome responsibility to represent a constituency and to know you are advocating on behalf of your friends, neighbors, and folks you see around town. My family is not political, so when I convinced my parents to listen to Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole deliver a tarmac speech 24 hours prior to the polls closing in 1996, they knew my course in life might be non-traditional.

I have always believed in fighting for the underdog and the less privileged and the political arena is where my talents shine. From being student-body president in high school to serving on my college’s board of trustees and later to serving on town council, I have found success in being a leader and making a positive impact for my community. It is that success which has continued to fuel my interest in politics.

What are you most hoping to achieve in your role as a representative?

My biggest hope for this legislative session is criminal justice reform, more specifically bail reform. I am the prime sponsor of legislation that seeks to end cash bail for low level petty offences. These are offences that typically bond between $50 and $250.

Courts across America are holding wealth based detention to be unconstitutional as a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution. Other cases have considered wealth based detention to violate the 8th Amendment (excessive bail shall not be required) and British-American sacrosanct doctrine of innocent until proven guilty.

Sitting in jail because a person cannot pay a $100 is coercing them to plead guilty to get out of jail. These cases are things like illegal u-turns, loitering, smoking in public, parking violations etc. This bill will save jail space for dangerous offenders.

Another aspect of bail reform is the implementation of pre-trial services, which allows an accused to be release on a personal recognizance bond. These services can vary from merely agreeing to conditions of release to monitoring the subject. The cost to the taxpayers for pre-trial services is a fraction of what it costs to detain an individual in jail prior to trial. I am working on a bill to fund pre-trial services to move Colorado away from being a wealth based detention state to a risk assessment state.

Criminal justice reform is a major issue and bail and pretrial services are only the beginning. I would not be leading the charge but for the influence from my education at the University of Edinburgh School of Law.

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