Arnold Mordkin: Guest opinion
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Let me start by telling you who I am. I’m Arnie Mordkin. I am privileged to be the chief deputy district attorney who runs the Aspen office of the district attorney for the 9th Judicial District.
I am a lifelong Democrat and proud of it. I began practicing law 49 years ago in California, where I served as a judge for a time. My wife, our 21⁄2-year-old daughter and I moved to Snowmass Village in 1995, and we’ve lived here ever since.
Except for the past four years, my practice centered on being a criminal-defense lawyer. In November 2008, I accepted my current position with the District Attorney’s Office, of which Martin Beeson is the elected district attorney. I would not have been offered this position and would not have taken it if I doubted the sincerity and integrity of my boss and his office or if his philosophy concerning the enforcement of the criminal laws of Colorado differed from mine.
I had, firsthand, almost daily contact with this office and respected its role in our system. As you probably know, it is the role of the district attorney to enforce the penal laws of this state. We are part of the executive branch of government, not the judicial branch. By statute in Colorado, every prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office is a sworn peace officer.
The district attorney is chosen every four years by the people we serve. This year, as an appropriate part of the democratic process, Beeson has a challenger, Sherry Caloia. She has made various statements about our office, both to the local press and on GrassRoots TV, which are totally wrong and untrue.
Some of you might think I am writing this in order to save my job because she has said that she will fire me and the other deputy in my office if she’s elected. While I like what I do, it makes me angry to think that I might lose my job because someone has tried to convince voters to vote for her based upon inaccurate and untrustworthy information.
Most of Caloia’s reasons for opposing Beeson are based upon, she said, newspaper articles and talking to defense attorneys. In fact, in my four years in this office, I can’t remember Caloia representing any person accused of a crime in Pitkin County.
According to the Oct. 28 edition of The Aspen Times, among Caloia’s “gripes are that Beeson is overzealous in prosecuting petty crimes and hard-nosed about negotiating plea deals.” In her GrassRoots TV appearance, she specifically objected to Beeson’s policy of not giving plea deals to people accused of drunken driving when they had a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.15. The highest blood-alcohol level one may have before being guilty of driving under the influence is .07. One should reasonably ask why one who is accused of drunk driving be allowed to plea to a lesser charge when they are two times above the maximum limit for the crime. It has been said, and I’ve come to believe, that drunk driving is a homicide looking for a place to happen. Is that what we want our prosecutors to be lenient about?
The fact is that, with rare exception, the District Attorney’s Office does not apprehend persons accused of crimes. The local police or sheriff’s department does that. If they make an arrest or write a citation for a “petty crime,” it is our obligation, if the facts are established, to prosecute those cases.
What is Ms Caloia’s definition of the “petty crime” about which she objects? Is it the $95 bad check given to a local merchant, or a $300 bad check given to a local grocer? Is it a $1,900 bad check given to a local condo owner for the monthly rental of her condo? It may be to Ms. Caloia, but it sure wasn’t to the people who were out the money. Why is it that such a person should not be vigorously prosecuted, especially given the fact that the same person has three prior felony convictions for the same type of alleged behavior?
In the same newspaper interview, the paper reports that Ms. Caloia accuses District Attorney Beeson as wanting “to make a criminal out of everyone.” She is quoted as saying, “(T)here is a nature of kids making mistakes, and I think we need to be human in this small (district).” he is right; we do have to be human about prosecuting people, not just young people. The reality is that her accusation is untrue, and we are human about how we prosecute.
When it comes to prosecuting most people, first-time offenders are often afforded the opportunity to be accountable for their behavior while at the same time, if they successfully complete probation, wipe the slate clean as if they had never been arrested. It’s called getting a deferred judgment and sentence, which, under state law, may only be granted with the consent of the district attorney.
As a part of my duties, I prosecute all cases in juvenile court. Those cases are confidential and are not accessible as a public record. To protect young people our office, with Mr. Beeson’s support, we inaugurated a system wherein young people accused of minor alcohol and drug offenses are no longer brought to county court where their foibles are accessible to dissemination over the vast electronic information system. They are filed in juvenile court, where their identity and records are protected so that they are not hindered in later life by their juvenile behavior as they try to find a job or get into the college of their choice.
Many people accused of criminal activity suffer from mental illness as the root cause of their behavior. In recognition of this, Mr. Beeson has directed that I participate with Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely and others in the formation of a “wellness-mental health” court to find ways to treat these people and stop their repetitive criminal behavior. To the same effect is the drug and alcohol court in our community.
Ms. Caloia would remove the placement of permanent prosecutors for the Aspen office and “install a schedule wherein different prosecutors would work out of the Pitkin County office.” One should ask how a prosecutor who lives in Rifle or Meeker could better understand the needs and peculiarities of our community than one who lives and raises his children in our community. Why should our community, which pays for more than its share of the budget, be deprived a full-time prosecutor? Perhaps she doesn’t realize that being the chief prosecutor in the county entails more than just filing cases. I meet regularly with the administration and officers of the sheriff’s department, as well as the various police departments in the county. I have been accessible to each of them on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis since I began. That can’t be done by an itinerant prosecutor.
Ms. Caloia touts her experience as the prosecutor for the communities of Basalt and Carbondale as a basis for ability to run this office. In fact, in carrying out those duties, she is often late and unprepared. She dismisses cases without having input from the very officers who made the arrest. If you really want to know how she’s done, ask a cop in those communities.
As a former defense attorney, I can understand why the defense would want to get the best deal he can for his client. That’s as it should be under our system. What shouldn’t be, and what will destroy the integrity and confidence of that system, is the replacement of its chief prosecutor because the defendant doesn’t get the deal he wants.
Reelect the one candidate for district attorney whose objective is to keep the integrity of our criminal justice system and keep our citizens safe. Re-elect Martin C. Beeson, district attorney.
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