Calm follows storm in DA’s office
GLENWOOD SPRINGS Martin Beeson can take solace in the fact that the public isn’t calling for his head.Beeson assumed the 9th Judicial District attorney’s office in January 2006 after voters selected him and deposed Colleen Truden in a recall election. Beeson’s tenure in office has been as calm as Truden’s was rough.The staffing of the office has stabilized; there are no allegations of unprofessional management practices; complaints have been reduced to a few rumblings by defense attorneys.”For me, no news is good news,” said Sherry Caloia, a Glenwood Springs attorney who was a key figure in the successful recall campaign against Truden.Caloia said the community “has gained incredibly” with Beeson’s replacing Truden. She believes the hard-fought campaign to oust Truden was well worth the effort.Beeson seemed an unlikely candidate to get wrapped up in a nasty political battle. He is a devoutly religious family man. He is an educator at heart. It was a lark that he even ended up in the Glenwood Springs branch of the DA’s office in 2003.After Beeson returned from teaching at universities overseas, DA Mac Myers hired him to fill in as a prosecutor while deputy district attorney Jeff Cheney served in Iraq. When Cheney returned, Beeson stayed on to fill other openings. He and his wife fell in love with the Glenwood area.Beeson made the transition to Truden’s administration as a deputy district attorney after term limits forced Myers out of office in November 2004.Beeson resigned from the office in April 2006 – four months into Truden’s tenure – when he saw colleagues he respected getting poor treatment – and even getting fired, in some cases. Beeson doesn’t dwell on what happened during Truden’s tenure. He considers it water under the bridge.Contrasting management stylesHe got involved in the recall campaign and eventually emerged as a candidate. During the campaign, he accused Truden of mishandling cases and being overbearing with her staff.
He also previously said Truden “overcharged” on some cases. A common complaint was that she was unwilling to make plea bargains, even when warranted. The result was judges in the district getting swamped with criminal cases.Now that he is in charge, Beeson will talk about his performance without direct comparisons to Truden. His core pledge in the campaign, he said, was to lead with “honesty, integrity and character.”He said it is best to assess his performance by talking to other people, although he acknowledged that the public “enjoys the stability and calm that’s settled in.”Beeson brought Cheney back to the office as his chief deputy. Together, he said, they have elevated the level of professionalism of the office. When they need to talk to prosecutors or other employees about their performance, it’s behind closed doors.”We don’t yell and scream. We don’t threaten,” Beeson said.By example, he and Cheney are trying to show that people higher in the office’s hierarchy should treat people lower in the hierarchy with professionalism and kindness, he said.Calming internal strifeAll evidence indicates the internal strife that punctuated Truden’s time in office in gone. There is a stable staff, and morale seems high. Pay raises work wonders: Beeson sought and received a substantial pay raise this year for his staff of 30 in Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.Beeson said employees – attorney and support staff – earned “unacceptable” wages when he took office. People need a wage they can live on, one that reflects the area’s high cost of living, he said.His plan was to increase pay across the board by 25 to 30 percent over three years. His request to the commissioners was for a 7 percent wage increase rather than the normal 3-4 percent cost-of-living adjustment.All three boards of commissioners granted a big enough budget increase for a substantially higher increase. All employees got a 6 percent raise and were eligible for up to a 4 percent merit raise, at the discretion of Beeson and Cheney.
The sense of satisfaction extends beyond pay. Beeson gives his experienced prosecutors a long leash and doesn’t supervise their every step. Gail Nichols, a respected prosecutor in Pitkin County, has Beeson’s “full faith and confidence,” he said.Politics ‘doesn’t matter’Beeson said Nichols has a “keen sensitivity to the nuances of the community” in Aspen. He indicated that his views on law enforcement might not mix as well with liberal Aspen.”With her there, I don’t have to worry about that office,” he said.Nichols said she confers with Beeson on major cases and minor ones that are likely to draw publicity. However, the relationship with him and with Truden are like night and day, she said. Truden wanted to know every detail of every case.The relationship with Truden “was not one of trust to any degree,” Nichols said. Beeson, on the other hand, “does let me run the show,” she said. “His politics and mine aren’t necessarily the same – and that doesn’t matter.”Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said a wedge formed between upper valley law enforcement agencies and lead prosecutors during Truden’s tenure.”Martin Beeson has done a lot to heal the sores,” he said.Beeson acknowledges that healing still needs to occur with lower valley law officials, some of whom supported Truden and “still harbor some resentment about what happened.”Courthouse criticismWhile Beeson draws high marks internally and from the public at large, the jury is still out among defense attorneys. None of the defense attorneys approached wanted to be quoted in a story, citing the need to work with Beeson’s office over the long term. However, courthouse chatter indicates that they wonder if Beeson gives his staff attorneys enough discretion and whether he is able to tailor prosecution strategies to different situations. He was accused of inflexibility and sticking to same rules whether the defendant is 17 or 71 years old.
Beeson and Nichols said a professional adversarial relationship between prosecutors and defense attorneys is inherent.”We get attacked all the time for just being prosecutors,” Beeson said.Nichols said some criticism from defense attorneys simply shows Beeson is doing his job.Beeson has accomplished his goal of reducing felony filings from Truden’s day. There were 746 felony criminal cases filed in Garfield County in 2005, the only full year Truden was in office. Last year, the number fell to 672 cases.The figure is still substantially higher than during Myers’ years in office. Between 2000 and 2004, Myers’ administration filed between 546 and 479 cases in Garfield County, where the bulk of district’s felonies occur, court records show.Beeson noted that Garfield County’s population explosion, driven by the oil and gas boom, is driving up the numbers. “With the influx of people come bad people,” he said. “When population increases, so does crime.”How long of a commitment Beeson has made as DA is unknown. Voters in the recall race elected him to fulfill Truden’s four-year term, which expires in January 2009. Beeson wouldn’t say if he will seek another term in November 2008.Working as a district attorney is not the “sum and substance” of his life, the husband and father of two sons said.”There is life after prosecuting. I’m just not sure how soon that life will start,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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