Caloia prepares to take over from Beeson as district attorney
December 17, 2012
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Newly elected 9th District Attorney Sherry Caloia said she already has told four attorneys working for outgoing District Attorney Martin Beeson that they won’t have jobs in her administration.
And she is planning prosecutorial policy changes relating to plea bargains and early talks with defense attorneys in an effort to make prosecutions smoother and more efficient.
Caloia, who lives and works in Glenwood Springs, seemed a bit distracted last week as she juggled telephone calls, a delivery man at the front door and an interview with a local reporter.
She granted that she has been busy after defeating Beeson in a close election that even Caloia was not sure she would win.
“I was surprised,” she said, recalling her feelings when she learned that Beeson had conceded the race Nov. 30, more than three weeks after the election, and withdrawn his demand for a recount.
Caloia, 57 and a mother of two, is closing her law practice of 17 years, selling her office at 1204 Grand Ave. and wrapping up two civil cases before she is sworn in as district attorney on Jan. 8.
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At the same time, she is preparing for her new job as administrator of a team of about a dozen prosecutors working in Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties, which make up the 9th Judicial District.
After the election, Caloia attended a two-day seminar for newly elected district attorneys hosted by the Colorado District Attorneys Council in Colorado Springs.
She also has started the process of letting go of some of the attorneys who had been working under Beeson.
In the Glenwood Springs office, she will be doing without the services of Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney and Deputy District Attorney Sandi Kister, she said. In Pitkin County, she has given notice to both deputy district attorneys, Arnie Mordkin and Richard Nedlin.
She had interviewed four candidates and expects to interview more in the remaining three weeks before she is sworn in. But she is not planning to increase the overall number of attorneys in the 9th District.
“I am hoping that we don’t need them,” she said, a reflection of her confidence that she can run the office more efficiently than in the past.
She said she will wait, perhaps for months, to name her assistant district attorney.
“I want to get into the office first. I want to work with these people, and I want to see how we all do together,” she said. Then she will name her primary assistant, she said.
“I want to make sure we’re on the same page and can work together,” she added.
Caloia already has plans for her first moves in office, such as a new policy of moving deputies around the three-county district “to make sure that offices are staffed with experienced people,” she said.
She also expects to implement new policies concerning “discovery,” which is the process by which prosecutors and defense attorneys share information about cases before a trial.
Her goal is to “make sure we’re getting discovery out as soon as possible.”
That is part of her broader intent to make the justice system work more smoothly and efficiently to the benefit of defendants, judges and prosecutors.
Her office will start analyzing cases more quickly and enter into early discussions with defense attorneys to “move cases along more efficiently,” she said.
From the beginning, she said, she will have the most experienced deputies combing through the case files looking for problematic cases or defendants who should have been offered plea deals rather than being set for trial.
“I don’t anticipate dismissing cases,” she said firmly.
Caloia said she also will focus on the prosecution of drunken-driving cases.
“I think it’s very important that we look at them. They’re serious crimes,” she said. “But with first-time offenders, there’s no difference between a DUI (driving under the influence) and DWAI (driving while alcohol impaired)” beyond the number of points assessed against an offender’s driver’s license.
She said Beeson’s policy allowed for no plea bargains for first-time DUI defendants whose blood-alcohol content tested at 0.15 percent or higher.
“I’m not going to do that,” Caloia said, explaining that she would be open to offering plea bargains in such cases.
She said she is studying other policy and philosophical changes to help unclog the court case loads.
Caloia said Beeson was perceived as “very aggressive in going after people” in certain kinds of cases.
“I may not be as aggressive toward first-time offenders,” she said. “Drug offenders I want in drug court if they can handle it. I think treatment is the way to go.”
Drug court is an alternative to more traditional prosecution and provides avenues for defendants to go into drug and alcohol treatment programs rather than prison.
“I hope to be responsive to the needs of the community,” Caloia said. “I know I’m not going to make everybody happy. That’s the nature of the job. But I hope I can be competent and be fair and just to all people.”
Caloia also expressed kind wishes toward Beeson.
“I do thank Martin and his staff for the seven years of service that he gave to the district, and I wish him well,” she said.
Beeson declined to be interviewed for this story.
In an email to the Post Independent, he said he has opened his office to Caloia and is assisting her in talks with his staff.
He also wrote that he has turned over contact information of the family of the victim in the high-profile Bebb-Jones murder case, which is scheduled to go to trial in April.
“I have met with the department heads in the several offices in an effort to cover any matters that may require the immediate attention of the incoming administration,” Beeson wrote. “This should be beneficial in making the transition.”