Garfield County chips in for DA positions |

Garfield County chips in for DA positions

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Garfield County commissioners on Monday approved allocating about $160,000 to the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office to hire two new deputy district attorneys, one investigator, a legal assistant and a witness advocate.

The money the commissioners approved for the new hires is contingent on Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties also agreeing to help pay for the positions. Those counties along with Garfield make up the 9th Judicial District.

The three counties pay a proportion of the district attorney’s budget based on their population. Because of that, Garfield County must cover up to 71 percent of the office’s budget.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson made the request for more positions to the commissioners on Monday because of a rising caseload in the district, especially in Garfield County.

Deputy district attorneys handle on average about 400 cases annually – the highest caseload in the state, according to a recently completed survey by the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office.

“There is a level at which people experience burnout, and we are at that level,” Beeson told the county commissioners.

Beeson attributed the rising caseload to an overall population surge in Garfield County.

“There are some folks who are here and are not invested in the community,” Beeson said.

Much of Garfield County’s recent growth has been tied to the rise of a booming natural gas industry in the region. However, Beeson said he is not going to point the finger at the oil and gas industry for the surge in cases his office sees.

“They have good and bad guys,” he said. “(The rise in cases) is not the fault of the oil and gas industry.”

The request for funding comes at a time when the district attorney’s office is creating a third criminal docket. The additional docket, which will be held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, was created after Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Gail Nichols to become a judge in the 9th Judicial District, according to a memo Beeson wrote to commissioners. Nichols began serving in that role Monday.

Each deputy district attorney position would cost about $70,000.

Beeson is also looking to hire one investigator, whose salary would be $70,000. He is seeking to employ a legal assistant and a victim/witness advocate. Those two positions would each require a $35,000 salary.

In Beeson’s memo to commissioners, he wrote that a survey recently completed by the 9th Judicial District found that deputy district attorneys in Garfield County have the highest caseloads in the state, each handling more than 400 cases per year.

The next highest caseload is Fremont County, where a deputy district attorney must handle 280 cases per year. The average felony caseload for all respondents in the survey was 197 cases each year, the memo said.

Beeson’s memo said that from 1997 to 2004, two deputy district attorneys handled 250 Garfield County cases each year. But after 2004, the caseload increased dramatically.

“That, in turn, increased stress levels of prosecutors to their breaking point,” Beeson wrote. “It is imperative that these caseloads, and the stress levels attendant to them, be alleviated.”

Beeson’s memo said the hiring of two additional felony deputy district attorneys would reduce the overall caseload to about 200 cases per deputy per year.

“This is precisely in line with the statewide average,” Beeson wrote. “As this office is acutely aware of the fiscal impact of this request, we note that even the addition of one felony deputy will substantially alleviate the stress of current caseloads.” Just one deputy district attorney would reduce the average caseload to 267 cases, the memo said.

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