Possible DA recall creates questions of transition
If voters decide to recall District Attorney Colleen Truden next Tuesday, they shouldn’t expect her to be leaving office the next day.In fact, the election would not become official and if recalled, Truden’s successor could not be sworn in until Jan. 6 at the earliest. And Truden would be entitled to remain in office until then.While that may be too long for some of Truden’s critics, it still wouldn’t be much time to hand off duties to the apparent DA-elect. In the event of a recall, Truden and her successor could need all that time to effect a smooth transition – assuming both parties are willing to cooperate with each other.It’s also possible that if recalled, Truden could resign before the election was certified. But she said in an interview this week, “I would absolutely finish whatever term the citizens had provided to me.”The Attorney General’s Office presumably would take over the office’s duties if she stepped down early. Chip McCrory, a write-in candidate hoping to replace Truden, said that in situations such as a DA dying or being incapacitated, the attorney general handles matters until a governor names a replacement.If Truden left office early, it’s also possible Gov. Bill Owens could name her heir apparent to take office early. Both McCrory and fellow Truden challenger Martin Beeson are Republicans, as is Owens – not to mention Truden. So Owens wouldn’t be put in a position of deciding whether to appoint someone of an opposing party.Election coordinated by stateThe recall election covers the 9th Judicial District, which includes Rio Blanco, Garfield and Pitkin counties, and is coordinated by the Secretary of State’s Office.Barring a recount request, the Secretary of State’s Office is scheduled to certify the recall election results Jan. 6 (see related time line). Office spokesperson Dana Williams said Truden, if recalled, would be entitled to remain in office until results are certified and a new DA could be sworn in and post a bond with the Secretary of State’s Office.”Until the vote is certified it’s not really official,” she said.Although a change in office probably wouldn’t be immediate, it still apparently would occur much more quickly than is normally the case in DA transitions. District attorneys usually are elected in early November and take office in January.Truden said voters can expect to see a rushed transition if they recall her.”That’s what they’ll end up with if that’s what they want to happen,” she said.Beeson, the only challenger to Truden whose name will appear on the recall ballot, said he’s not concerned about the short time frame. However, it has put him in an awkward position. Beeson feels obligated to start formulating transition plans before he even knows if he will be elected DA.”I don’t want to be presumptuous but I also don’t want to be negligent,” he said.He said there’s a lot of work to be done during a transition, such as assigning cases to deputy DAs and instituting policies and procedures.”I think I would be remiss if I did not start thinking about my administration and what I’m going to do and the personnel and policies and procedures and those sorts of things, just to be able to hit the ground running after I take office,” he said.McCrory said one particular challenge would be that counties are now finalizing Truden’s budget, which a new DA would have to live with for the next year.”Whoever comes in is going to be hitting the ground on that fast and without a complete idea of what’s going on,” he said.Smooth transition?Another question is how well an incoming DA and Truden would work together on a transition. Beeson said he chooses to be optimistic that Truden would put hard feelings aside for the sake of a smooth transfer of the office if voters decide to recall her.”I’m going to assume and presume that the transition would be effectuated in a professional manner,” he said.Truden worries about how a new regime would behave during a transition. She expects that she would continue to be accused of lying just as she has been during the recall campaign.”They’re not going to change their stripes,” she said.Still, she said she would do what she could to ease the transition if she’s recalled.One factor in a transition would be how many deputy DAs would be kept on by the new officeholder. Beeson called that “a really sensitive area” that he preferred not to speak about now. If he’s elected, he said, he would need to meet with each deputy “and come to a decision on each of them on an individual basis.”McCrory also said it’s premature to talk about possible staff changes. But he said he doubts he or Beeson would make drastic changes in the deputy DA staff. A rapid turnover in Truden’s deputy ranks “without any waiting in the wings” caused a staffing problem for her last spring, he said.McCrory said he wouldn’t be worried about cases being transitioned smoothly from one DA to the next, but trials could be a complication. He said he thinks judges would be forgiving on a lot of matters until a new DA got settled into the job.Truden said the public should expect a new DA to face transition difficulties if she is recalled, and she noted how she heard from her critics on the issue after she took office.”They didn’t really let me get started in a transition before they started attacking me,” she said. Now, she said, “I think the citizens have seen what’s going on and don’t want to go through a transition that is completely and totally unnecessary and baseless and unwarranted.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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