DA challenger Caloia rips on Aspen prosecutors
October 25, 2012
ASPEN – Democrat Sherry Caloia, who is challenging Republican incumbent Martin Beeson in the 9th Judicial District attorney’s race, expressed displeasure with the quality of his two deputy district attorneys in Pitkin County during Squirm Night in Aspen on Wednesday.
“I don’t believe that the deputies in Aspen are well-placed,” Caloia said in response to a question from Aspen Times Managing Editor Rick Carroll about whether she would retain Beeson’s staff if elected Nov. 6.
Caloia, a Glenwood Springs attorney and prosecutor for the towns of Basalt and Carbondale, was referring to Arnold Mordkin and Richard Nedlin, who handle cases in the Pitkin County Courthouse. The 9th Judicial District also includes Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
“There has been a lot of controversy about them,” Caloia said. “There’s been a lot of unhappiness. There’s been judges criticizing them. I think you’ve got to look at that. I think you’ve got to do something about it.”
Carroll asked Caloia how she arrived at that conclusion.
“It’s the impression I’m getting from talking to people, talking to defense attorneys and reading the (newspapers),” she said.
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Beeson suggested that Caloia’s remarks were off base and that she was too close to defense attorneys.
“I don’t think she’s talking to the victims of the crimes that my deputies here in Pitkin County represent,” he said, pointing out that Caloia might have animosity toward Nedlin after representing Nedlin’s ex-wife in a divorce case.
“She also talks about a judge criticizing these two deputies,” Beeson continued. “What she’s specifically referencing is a District Court judge here in Pitkin County who found that my deputies were engaged in a pattern of misconduct in terms of discovery violations.”
Beeson said Caloia was running against him in part because he appealed the judge’s decision in the case involving the alleged discovery violations.
“She obviously would not have appealed that decision, which tells me she did not see the danger in the precedent that this case set,” he said.
Beeson said he never would have conceded a pattern of misconduct over an allegation of four mistakes when his office has handled 3,000 cases in four years.
His challenge of the district judge’s decision was successful at the Court of Appeals in Denver, he said.
“In doing that, (the Court of Appeals) affirmed and confirmed my common sense and good judgment and repudiated my opponent’s position.”
Caloia said Beeson was interpreting the outcome of that matter incorrectly.
“What the Court of Appeals did in that case was to say, the sanction issued in that case is not appropriate,” she said. “The court never said that those discovery violations were not actually committed by the deputies. … And it’s not four or five (discovery violations); it’s several over the three counties.”
Beeson, who has served as district attorney since January 2006, and Caloia, whose effort seven years ago to recall Beeson’s predecessor led to his election, sparred often during the hourlong event in the studios of GrassRoots TV in the Red Brick Building on East Hallam Street.
Caloia spoke of court systems clogged because Beeson’s office sets too many cases for trial and then doesn’t follow through with them in a timely manner, adding that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Criminal cases are moving too slowly, frustrating the courts, the victims and the public, she said.
Beeson countered that “justice delayed is justice delayed.” Delays often occur because the District Attorney’s Office continues to investigate and build its cases, which benefits victims and the public, he said. Other times, it’s because of various types of delays by the defendants and their attorneys, such as refusing to accept plea arrangements until the last possible minute.
“To say that because dispositions come at a late date in the case … that that’s causing the court system to be clogged, I don’t know where that comes from. That’s preposterous,” he said.
They also differed on their answers to Aspen Daily News Managing Editor Curtis Wackerle’s question about whether they supported Amendment 64, a state referendum on whether to regulate marijuana like alcohol.
Beeson described marijuana as a “gateway drug.” He said a that few years ago, at a law enforcement symposium in Garfield County, a local physician described in scientific detail the harmful effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain.
“Those effects are serious, and they’re lifetime,” he said. “If we legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, it’s going to cause a lot of problems for our children. It’s going to increase the driving problems on our streets and highways.
“Do you want to be on the road when somebody is stoned on marijuana and they’re driving on the same road that you are and they’re driving in your direction with your family in the car?” Beeson asked.
Caloia said voters should be allowed to speak on the issue, but she stopped short of wholesale endorsement of Amendment 64.
“I’ll abide by whichever way it goes,” she said. “I’m taking no public position on it.”
She said she doesn’t want stoned drivers on the road, but nor does she condone drunken driving.
“The problems with marijuana in our society are there,” she said. “They’re pretty similar to the problems we have with alcohol. I have a problem with saying marijuana is the gateway drug, marijuana is the problem, when we have alcohol that is also a problem and a problem for youth.”
In other remarks, Caloia knocked Beeson’s office for “stacking charges,” the practice of overcharging those accused of a crime in order to force a guilty plea to a lesser charge because of the sheer weight of the multiple allegations.
Beeson denied that his office does that. He also repeatedly criticized Caloia’s level of experience in prosecuting felony cases.