Verdict’s in on DA’s performance
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Like any public official, he has his critics. But much of the Garfield County legal community seems to be generally satisfied with District Attorney Martin Beeson’s handling of the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Beeson took over as DA Jan. 6 last year, after Republican Colleen Truden was recalled. Beeson, a Republican, has strong Christian beliefs and is politically conservative.
Some have raised concerns about his religious beliefs and say he is too rigid in his decision-making, tying the hands of his deputy district attorneys and over-prosecuting in certain cases. But even many of his critics seem to like him and say he’s a man with a high level of integrity.
It’s clear the office is much more stable from the standpoint of turnover. During Truden’s term in office 11 people were fired or resigned in about 11 months. Truden took office in January 2005. Voters decided by a 4-to-1 margin on Dec. 13, 2005, to recall Truden from office. Beeson said only three attorneys and one victim’s advocate have left since he took over.
Judging by the clerk’s office, the courts are happy.
Clerk of the Combined Courts for Garfield County James Bradford said his office has a great relationship with the DA’s office.
“We see the DA’s office as very efficient and very smooth,” he said. “What was set out to be accomplished was accomplished, and it’s been a happy ending for the recall process.”
Bradford said felony filings in Garfield County for 2006 were down about 10 percent from 2005. But he said this could be a normal fluctuation and didn’t necessarily reflect anything about Beeson’s prosecution style.
The drop seems to fit with others’ comments that Beeson is more careful than Truden with filing decisions. Felony filings for Garfield County over the past three years are: 479 in 2004, 746 in 2005 and 672 in 2006.
Deputy District Attorney Tony Hershey said the best thing Beeson has done is clean up the “mess” left by Truden. Hershey was an outspoken supporter of the Truden recall and said he was forced to resign from Truden’s DA office.
“He’s turned it around,” he said. “He’s a super nice guy and always willing to talk to you,” whereas Truden was “very secretive, very Nixonian.”
“I know he treats staff particularly well, which was a big problem for her,” Hershey added.
“I consider Martin Beeson a friend of mine,” Glenwood Springs attorney Thomas Silverman said. “I think that Martin is a very honest, honorable man and that he has been open and willing to talk to me about important cases.”
Beeson said his overall philosophy might be a little firmer in the eyes of others in terms of filing and bargaining. The philosophy – prosecute the bad guys and process the rest – involves trying to separate people who have a significant criminal history or commit more heinous acts from those who simply wander into the legal system by making a mistake.
Of being tougher than others on DUIs, Beeson said, “I understand that good people make mistakes and are good people at heart.” But he added that drunk drivers present an unknown danger to innocent people, whom he has an obligation to protect.
The message from law enforcement about Beeson and his office’s performance is unclear, with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office very positive, the Carbondale Police Department slightly frustrated, and the Glenwood Springs and Rifle Police Department heads choosing not to comment.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said, “I’m really pleased with him so far as a DA.”
“A lot of us didn’t really know Martin that well,” he added, but Beeson and his office have been “very attentive” and communicative.
Vallario said during an incident in late October in which Colorado State Trooper Brian Koch was shot, Beeson and Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney worked very hard to prepare warrants so the sheriff’s office could do its job, which he said went a long way in establishing Beeson’s credibility. Vallario was initially concerned about Beeson’s religious beliefs, but said he hasn’t seen it influence his job.
He also said Beeson isn’t as forgiving as other DAs, and less likely to plea bargain to the degree others have been.
On the other side, Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said that since Beeson took over, he felt there has been somewhat of a lack of communication between his department and the DA’s office.
“It seems to me that the communication isn’t what I’d hoped it would have been between us and them,” he said.
Some described the hiring of former Deputy District Attorney Pamela Mucklow as one of the few real missteps the office has made to this point.
Mucklow worked in the office for about 3 1/2 months. Beeson and others agreed her philosophy wasn’t a good fit. She eventually resigned in mid-February.
Public records show past grievances against her made it to the supreme court, which found she failed to disclose evidence in a timely fashion twice. The court found that there was no violation because it was unintentional. More than one person interviewed said e-mails from other parts of the state were sent that were critical of Mucklow.
For his part, Beeson said the disclosure incidents occurred about a decade ago when Mucklow was a relatively young and inexperienced prosecutor. He said two other prospective applicants had passed up the same job offer due to salary issues. He added that prosecutors are regularly accused of failing to disclose evidence as a defense strategy or due to complications from working with several law enforcement agencies at once.
“I would say I have seen the deputies have less discretion under this administration then under any other administration I have ever seen,” Silverman said.
Others outside the DA’s office share Silverman’s opinion.
But Chief Public Defender Greg Greer said Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch, with whom he primarily works, seems to be allowed freedom. He said she is an experienced prosecutor who does an excellent job in general and in exercising her discretion in the courtroom.
“When it comes to Amy, she seems to have the discretion to exercise her professional judgment,” Greer said.
Hershey also said that he’s granted a lot of discretion in his own work, which was not the case while working under Truden.
Some have said Beeson’s toughness in policy or rigidity in bargaining on certain types of crimes doesn’t seem to be consistent with his religious beliefs, if Christianity is a religion for the underdog and one of compassion and forgiveness.
“I wasn’t elected to forgive people for the wrongs they’ve inflicted on others,” Beeson said. “I save the lion’s share of my compassion for the victims.”
Asked about the issue of religion, Hershey said he’s seen a Bible on Beeson’s desk, but that religion has never come up at the office.
Hershey said if defense attorneys are voicing complaints, it’s probably because Beeson is doing his job. They’re supposed to be adversaries, and DAs are supposed to be tough, he added.
“He’s a district attorney – he’s not Jesus,” Hershey said.
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