DA candidates list issues facing office
The following is the second of five questions posed by The Aspen Times to the three candidates for 9th Judicial District Attorney. The candidates include current District Attorney Sherry Caloia, a Democrat; Jefferson Cheney, a Republican; and Chip McCrory, an independent.
The 9th Judicial District includes Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
Question: What are the major issues/needs/challenges facing the District Attorney’s Office in Aspen and the DA’s Office in general?
The District Attorney’s Office has lost at least 13 attorneys during Sherry Caloia’s term in office (not counting ones fired when she first took over or the two who left and came back). The Aspen office has just now lost their felony prosecutor to a different job. The Glenwood office recently lost one felony prosecutor because of medical issues and a second one was appointed to a judgeship. That leaves the District Attorney’s Office down three senior attorneys, and it appears that these slots will not be filled before the election. That is more than 100 percent turnover for that office. Her claim that she hires excellent people who get hired away is not matched by the fact that several of these lawyers left to lower-paying jobs or no jobs at all.
It will require a major effort to get new people and to properly train them. That training will have to be a major priority for the new district attorney. I am the only candidate who has trained new deputy DAs and has the complete experience with all aspects of being a DA needed to ensure that the new staff is capable.
The major immediate challenge facing the DA’s Office in Aspen is to recruit, hire and train a new felony chief deputy to handle the felony docket in Aspen. In addition, based on a number of conversations I have had with citizens, there is a perception that the DA’s Office does not treat people equally in terms of prosecution philosophy. In general, the DA’s Office suffers from a public crisis of faith and confidence in whether the elected DA is providing the leadership necessary to seek justice for victims of crime and accused persons. We need a DA who is a trained leader who will work with anyone and everyone who plays a key role in our criminal justice system and a DA who will not let petty differences prevent professional cooperation.
The major issue facing the DA’s Office right now is the budget. Garfield County and Rio Blanco County demand that the budget not be increased. I am forced to be smart on use of resources (staff time) in my office. I cannot bring additional staff in and have to make sure that the attorneys are making the most of their time. Having staff pursue cases that are not provable is not something we can afford.
Secondly, we have a growing problem of addiction and mental health issues with defendants, which affects the community. Arresting these people and jailing them is not making a difference. We need to expand our mental health court downvalley and assess how to get a handle on our addiction problem. While the Pitkin County Jail is progressive in having mental health workers and addiction counselors provide services to inmates, that is not enough.