Distinct differences in DA race | AspenTimes.com

Distinct differences in DA race

ASPEN – There was a time when Sherry Caloia and Martin Beeson were so unsatisfied with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office that they agreed that change was in order.

It was 2005, and under the leadership of District Attorney Colleen Truden, the office saw a high turnover of prosecutors, chiefly because they were dissatisfied with their newly elected boss. Charges of mismanagement, nepotism and poor relations with her employees led to a historic recall election in December 2005, making Truden’s tenure last less than one year.

Caloia was one of Truden’s most vocal critics and a key figure in the recall. Voters picked Beeson to replace Truden, and he’s been the district attorney ever since.

Fast-forward to 2012, and Beeson, 56, and Caloia, 57, both Garfield County residents, seem to be at odds on all things prosecutorial. Beeson holds that things are just humming along at the office, evidenced by he and his staffers “putting away the bad guys,” as he says. But Caloia, while acknowledging that Beeson has done a better job than his predecessor, isn’t satisfied with the office’s direction.

A Democrat, Caloia became so frustrated with Beeson’s approach and philosophy toward prosecuting crime that she announced her candidacy for district attorney in April.

She admits that she has an uphill battle against the Republican incumbent, whose district encompasses the left-leaning Pitkin County and the conservative beds of Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. Garfield accounts for 70 percent of the population among the three counties and 76 percent of the total volume of criminal cases processed by the District Attorney’s Office.

As Caloia has ramped up her campaign in the past few weeks, Beeson has found himself defending an office she has criticized harshly. Among her gripes are that Beeson is overzealous is prosecuting petty crimes and hard nosed about negotiating plea deals. Beeson doesn’t see it that way.

“In almost all of our cases, we make very reasonable offers,” he said. “There are the very few cases we have that we don’t believe an offer is appropriate.”

“When a guy takes a hatchet to his father’s head nine times, we don’t make an offer,” Beeson said, in reference to a 2011 Garfield County jury trial that led to the murder conviction of then 31-year-old Jerry D. Snider.

Asked about his overall philosophy toward running the District Attorney’s Office, and Beeson keeps its simple.

“We prosecute the bad guys and process the rest,” he said. “That’s what we do and we’re on par with every district attorney’s office around the state in terms of the percentage of cases we resolve and the percentage of cases that go to trial. … About 95 to 98 percent of our cases are resolved without going to trial.”

Caloia, however, said that her discussions with defense attorneys throughout the district reveal a prosecutor’s office that is sluggish when it comes to turning over discovery, stubborn when it comes to making plea offers, and resistant when it comes to prosecuting white-collar criminals.

“Mr. Beeson has portrayed me as someone who’s willing to give defense attorneys a good deal,” she said. “Anybody who knows me knows that is not the case. I am tough on crime that affects a lot of people.”

A prosecutor for the municipalities of Basalt and Carbondale, Caloia also worked as an assistant district attorney in Adams County.

“I’m not going to be a D.A. who wants to make a criminal out of everyone,” she said. “There’s a national statistic that says one out of every three young men under 25 is going to have a criminal record. I don’t think that should be the case. I’m certainly not out to coddle these kids, but there is a nature of kids making mistakes, and I think we need to be human in this small (district).”

At last week’s Squirm Night candidate forum hosted by Aspen’s two daily newspapers, Caloia said that if elected, she would remove Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin and Deputy District Attorney Richard Nedlin from the Pitkin County branch of the D.A.’s office.

In a follow-up interview Friday, she said there would be no room for negotiations, and the two would be fired if she takes the top post, citing incompetence by the two.

“I really don’t think they’re up to the challenge of working with other people and doing what needs to be done,” she said.

Instead, Caloia said she would install a schedule where different prosecutors work out of the Pitkin County office, rotating with the offices in Rifle and Rio Blanco County.

Beeson has stood by Mordkin and Nedlin, as well as his entire staff of prosecutors.

“The greatest lesson in this job is getting good people working for you,” he said. “We’ve had some hires that we’ve regretted in the past but we’ve had some hires that are just outstanding, and right now we have a staff of prosecutors that I don’t think is eclipsed any where. They’re highly trained men and women of integrity and character, and relentless in their prosecution of crimes.”

Beeson has a projected spending plan of $3.19 million for 2013. Caloia has opined that Beeson could run his office effectively with a leaner budget. Beeson say raises given to his prosecutors is necessary in order to retain them.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com