The Challengers: McCrory
December 8, 2005
For Chip McCrory, the plight of the district attorney’s office comes down to mathematics.Colleen Truden has repeatedly said that she has filed 57 percent more felonies in her first nine months in office than her predecessor did in 2004. McCrory wonders what kind of plea bargains will be offered and how many of those cases will go to trial.”For example, it looks like Colleen is on pace to file 1,000 felonies in Garfield County. Say she files 800 cases,” he said. “If the judges and the district do nothing but try criminal felony cases, they can only try 150 in a year. Do the math: A felony case takes three or four days, [and] they’re only to work 50 weeks a year. The question then is, if you’ve filed 800 cases, what do you do with the other 650?”As of Dec. 6, 711 criminal cases had been filed in Garfield County district court. Under the constitutional requirement of a speedy trial, if someone pleads not guilty they must be brought to trial within six months.”The bottom line is, you have to pick and choose your cases,” McCrory said. “That’s why you plea bargain. But if you’re not offering reasonable plea bargains or if you’re sitting there clogging things up with cases that really aren’t serious, the whole system comes to a screeching halt. That’s what’s going on.
“The system is broken right now.”McCrory, a Carbondale defense attorney and a former No. 2 prosecutor in the 9th Judicial District, is a write-in candidate to replace Truden if she’s recalled. He’s using grassroots efforts, such as phone calls, e-mail and media ads, to urge people to write his name on the ballot. McCrory was about 200 names short of making the recall ballot; running a law practice hasn’t allowed him much time to campaign, he said.”It’s not the kind of election where you go out there and knock on doors, because I’m not sure how many folks are actually going to get off their sofas and vote,” he said.McCrory, 51, joined the local district attorney’s office in 1985 as a deputy prosecutor under Milt Blakey. About seven years later, he was promoted to assistant district attorney; he held that position for about four years.The crux of McCrory’s prosecutorial experience came in Jefferson County outside Denver, however, where he handled major crimes before coming to the Roaring Fork Valley.”You learn some things at a big-city DA’s office that you just don’t learn in rural Colorado,” he said. “We obviously had a lot more homicides, a lot more armed robberies, a lot more very serious felonies.”
That experience allowed him to differentiate between serious cases and lesser ones. It’s easy to observe in Garfield County district court how many cases “are pleaded out, how many sentences are going down and how many cases are getting continued,” McCrory said. “They’re getting continued for all sorts of reasons.”So what is the result of ongoing continuances? Among other things, a huge amount of time is being wasted, McCrory said.”For example, you’ve got 50 cases set in the morning … and 45 of them get continued. Court clerks had to pull those 45 cases, they then have to update the continuances and then refile the 45 cases,” he said. “Same thing with the DA secretaries.”Continuing cases is common in our legal system. What sets Truden’s office apart, according to McCrory, is the number of continuances.”The system is just clogged and stalled right now,” he said. “You’ve got to do something with those cases. It’s a triage. There are cases that have to go to trial, there are cases [in which] it doesn’t matter if they go to trial, and there are cases that fall in between. You’ve got to get your desk clear of the ones that aren’t going to be of earthshaking importance.”In some circumstances, a person may be convicted at trial and “they’ll end up no worse off – in some cases, better off – than they would if they took the plea bargain that was offered,” McCrory said.
That gives a suspect little motivation to work with prosecutors, he said.”If [suspects] sit down and talk with their attorney, and they decide that they don’t have any further risk by going to trial than they would if they pled guilty, why wouldn’t they go to trial?” he said.If Truden survives the recall election, or if she doesn’t and Martin Beeson wins her seat, McCrory won’t lose much sleep over it.”If the worse that happens is Wednesday morning [after the election] I come back to work here at my office, there’s a lot worse things that could happen.”