Incumbent DA and challengers prepare for race
The race for 9th Judicial District Attorney is shaping up to be a three-way fight in November between incumbent Sherry Caloia and two former prosecutors.
Carbondale-based defense attorney Chip McCrory joined the race Sunday, announcing his intentions to run as an independent.
Meanwhile, Glenwood Springs attorney Jefferson Cheney, a former prosecutor under Caloia and her predecessor, Martin Beeson, is running as a Republican.
Caloia confirmed Monday that she will seek her party’s nomination to run for re-election as a Democrat.
The Post Independent was unable to contact Cheney on Monday for this story.
Seeking a second term as district attorney, Caloia said she will focus on the programs and developments she’s fostered at her office.
She’s developed a “diversion program” aimed at keeping young adults with minor charges out of the criminal justice system, keeping their records clean, while still handling the problem.
She’s also been working to restore a recently defunct program for sexual assault victims and to develop a sexual assault response team. The district attorney said she’s also worked to develop her office’s investigative capabilities, especially focusing on thefts and embezzlement cases, which can take the weight of a burdensome investigation off other local agencies.
Caloia said she initially ran against then-DA Beeson in 2012 to fix an office with what she called an “authoritarian environment.”
She started her tenure by changing out much of the staff at the Aspen and Rio Blanco County offices, including Cheney, and bringing what she called a new “level of professionalism.”
At the Rio Blanco office especially, she said a big gap between the prosecutors and local law enforcement had developed. The police didn’t feel like the deputy district attorneys were listening to them, and it created some tense relationships, said Caloia.
The office had a particular arrogance, a tough on crime stance that led them to prosecute cases they shouldn’t have, she said.
In one high-profile Aspen case, she said the office pressed negligent homicide charges against three building inspectors after four people died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a vacation rental.
But the prosecution made so many mistakes, the court dismissed the case, she said.
So Caloia said she focused closely on what charges her office files in the first place.
The district attorney has, in turn, been criticized for micro managing her office. But she says after her 30 years of experience, she likes keeping close tabs on her employees to make sure they’re carrying out her directives.
McCrory said that over the last several administrations the district attorney’s office has gotten away from being an open agency there to serve the people.
And that problem remains under Caloia’s leadership, he says.
McCrory spent 16 years as a deputy district attorney in the 1990s and early 2000s, 12 of them with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Since that time he has been in private practice and says he’s seen unsettling trends at the DA’s office.
Among his complaints, McCrory points to the DA’s policy not to allow hearings on restitution when they’ve offered a plea bargain.
Caloia said most cases involve restitution amounts that are verifiable, but in the cases the prosecution can’t verify the amount, she’ll allow a restitution hearing.
During the case surrounding the 2014 murder of Nancy Pfister in Aspen, said McCrory, the DA’s office kept the court files sealed long after all the arrests were made and the investigation was all but finished. Later, the charges on two people in the case were dismissed after they’d already spent months in jail, he noted.
When McCrory was at the DA’s office in Aspen, he said everyone knew who he was and there was no hesitation to come up and talk — maybe give him an earful about something they thought he did wrong, he said.
There was a feeling that the prosecutors represented the community, and the office has gotten away from that, he said.
McCrory will have to petition to get on the November ballot, and by state law he can’t begin petitioning until May.
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