Challengers, Truden square off at debate
Post Independent Staff
Two men hoping to replace District Attorney Colleen Truden in next week’s recall election questioned her honesty, ethics and ability Wednesday night.
Truden responded in a Glenwood Springs debate by suggesting it’s her critics, including candidates Martin Beeson and Chip McCrory, who aren’t being honest.
“My, my, many attacks from all sides,” Truden said at one point after her challengers, sitting on each side of her, accused her of mishandling her budget during her first year in office.
“… It’s these kind of distortions that are out there, that they’re trying to make you believe that we did something inappropriate or wrong. … We did our job and they can’t stand it,” said Truden, who is fighting to keep her job after taking office in January.
But Beeson said Truden’s office faces dual crises: a lack of integrity and lack of confidence.
“The voters of this district deserve straight talk,” he said.
The issue of Truden’s honesty came up almost immediately during the debate, held in a standing-room-only Glenwood Springs City Council chambers. The second question the three were asked involved their views on nepotism ” a reference to Truden’s hiring of her husband, Fred, to do contract computer work earlier this year.
“It’s not illegal to hire your family but it’s a bad political decision,” McCrory said. “… I don’t recommend it. I will not hire family members if I an elected district attorney.”
He added that if he did and were asked about it, he wouldn’t just say the person was volunteering for him, as Truden did.
Beeson said the issue isn’t whether Fred Truden ” who was in the audience Wednesday night ” should have been hired. “The issue is the dishonesty and the deception that followed it,” he said.
Truden denied accusations that she lied about her husband’s hiring to county commissions overseeing her budget.
“I have not misrepresented his position in the office, what he’s done or what I’ve told the commissioners, any one of them,” she said.
Beeson questioned why Fred Truden had to be trained if he was supposed to be a computer expert, but Colleen Truden said another contractor only was showing him what work needed to be done.
Truden said her husband also had done hundreds of hours of volunteer work for her, but was paid “as a onetime emergency response to an urgent need in the office.”
McCrory also accused Truden of so lacking experienced staff that the justice system isn’t working. Plea negotiations with defense attorneys aren’t occurring, prosecutors aren’t prepared and cases are being delayed.
“You’ve got things completely clogged up. In another couple of months it’s going to come to a complete standstill,” McCrory said.
Truden said her office is filing more felony charges, which couldn’t occur if court dockets were backlogged. She said judges also haven’t raised a concern about a backup with her.
“I haven’t been called in to talk about clogged dockets because … cases are moving forward, they’re moving through the system,” she said.
McCrory said one of Truden’s staffing problems has resulted from asking employees to leave immediately after they have given notice that they would be quitting. That’s something a small DA office can’t afford to do without good reason, he said.
Truden said she only did that in the case of employees who said they didn’t like her philosophies and weren’t willing to continue being team players.
“If you can’t trust them to do their job then they can’t be there,” she said.
Beeson said alleged sex offender Alfred Owens is free today because Truden asked prosecutor Jeff Cheney to leave her office after he gave his notice, then dismissed the Owens case, which Cheney was handling.
But Truden said the Owens case was dismissed based on the judgment of an experienced prosecutor that evidence was lacking.
The experience levels of Truden and her opponents was another focus of Wednesday’s debate. McCrory, a write-in candidate, touted his 16 years as a prosecutor, and Beeson pointed to his partnership in a law firm and his prosecution experience in Colorado Springs.
Truden cited her 23 years of experience as an attorney, mostly in the criminal system.
“I have administrative and management experience that neither one of these individuals can bring to the office,” she said.
But Beeson said he doesn’t want to bring Truden’s administrative and management skills to the job. “We’ve had enough of them and it is not good,” he said, pointing to the seven prosecutors, including him, who have left her office.
He said the DA should lead his staff by example.
“You’ve got to be kind, you’ve got to be respectful, you’ve got to be honest, you’ve got to be fair and sometimes you’ve got to be firm,” he said.
McCrory said he favors a mentorship approach to management rather than a dictatorial one.
Truden called it a “miscarriage of justice” to believe what disgruntled ex-employees say about what kind of boss she is.
“They are angry, bitter people, so don’t expect to learn about my management style from these individuals,” she said.
Despite their differences, Truden, Beeson and McCrory kept their discourse civil Wednesday, with McCrory occasionally lightening up the atmosphere with amusing, offhand asides. The three also found several areas of agreement. Neither Beeson nor McCrory challenged Truden’s controversial decision to charge 14-year-old Eric Stoneman as an adult in the shooting death of a fellow teen. All said decisions on seeking to extradite suspects depended on factors such as the seriousness of the crime in question and how far away the suspect is.
All favored justice programs that involve having defendants provide restoration to their victims, and all supported plea bargaining as a means for moving cases more quickly through the system and keeping jails from becoming too crowded. However, Beeson also chided Truden for what he said was a practice of filing the most severe charges possible to provide leverage during plea bargaining.
All voiced support for the TRIDENT drug enforcement task force, but McCrory said it needs to focus more on the emerging meth problem, and Beeson said TRIDENT officers need more training and more professionalism. Truden said officers have received “immeasurable” training during her time in office.
Both McCrory and Beeson criticized Truden’s media relations Wednesday. Beeson said Truden had failed to honor a campaign pledge to return all calls from the media, so she shouldn’t blame the media for supposedly unfair reporting about her.
McCrory agreed, saying the DA can’t ignore the area’s many newspapers and newspaper readers who have questions about the DA’s office.
“You can’t put your head in the sand and hide. And you can’t continue a string of lies, because sooner or later it’s going to get found out. This valley is going to ask (questions) all the way down to the Utah line,” he said.
Truden said she talks to reporters, but newspaper readers still get only one side of the story about her, and thousands of people with other views aren’t being heard.
“They see through exactly what is going on here,” she said.
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