Truden defends her office
District Attorney Colleen Truden is defending the work of her office, saying case loads are up and so are convictions. Truden says felony convictions between January and August are up more than 8 percent in the 9th Judicial District over the same period last year. The district covers Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.”That’s with fewer people and all this mess going on,” she said, referring to an effort to recall her.Felony prosecution filings in Garfield County and Rio Blanco counties increased 58 percent over the same period of 2004, she said. Pitkin County felony filings were the same as last year.County court misdemeanor filings are higher this year than last.”The numbers are up, and we’re handling more cases,” Truden said. “We’re filing more prosecutions and getting more convictions.” Glenwood Springs attorney Sherry Caloia, who is leading a recall effort against Truden, questioned the numbers released.”No, they don’t sound accurate to me,” Caloia said. “To me it would be very disturbing to know that crime is up 58 percent in these communities. … If she’s trying to say crime is up that much, that’s very disturbing, or to say (former District Attorney) Mac Myers failed to charge (people for) crimes. Is there an abundance of crime going on in our communities that didn’t get attended to (under Myers)? I don’t think that’s true, and, no, I don’t trust those numbers at all.”To just throw out numbers and percentages without the underlying data to show what’s going on – you really can’t tell,” added Caloia.Truden, who ran on a get-tough-on-crime platform in last year’s election, said the numbers reflect a proactive approach by her office.She also said the higher case load could relate to an overall increase in crime. In addition, she credited improved cooperation with local police.”Law enforcement has more confidence that the DA’s office will follow through on cases,” she said. “We are seeing an increase in case load on the west end of (Garfield) county as a result of the growing oil and gas industry.” There is some correlation with that population and a spike in domestic violence and driving-under-the-influence arrests, she added. Rio Blanco is also seeing its share of similar crime. “There is also a lot of (oil and gas) workforce in the Piceance Basin (including Garfield and Rio Blanco counties),” she added.Truden, who took office in January, has come under fire since nine attorneys and staff left shortly after she took office. More recently, an attorney she hired, Tony Hershey, resigned, saying in his resignation letter that he could not work “in an atmosphere of abuse, disrespect and outright hostility.” Truden has also drawn criticism for hiring her husband for computer work in her office and questionable budget spending.”If (crime) really is up 58 percent, we’re going to be in a world of hurt with the kind of prosecutors (in the DA’s office) and the inability to keep staff,” Caloia said.With a current roster of 10 attorneys – two in Pitkin County, one in Rio Blanco County and seven in Garfield County – Truden said she is one attorney short of a full staff.For the recall effort to be valid, the petition would need signatures of 25 percent of the people who voted in the district attorney election in the three counties the 9th Judicial District covers.The recall petition would need 5,455 signatures of registered voters. When and if the petition is certified by the Secretary of State, the election could be set 45 to 90 days from that date. All three counties would hold elections.Besides the exodus of attorneys in the early days of her tenure, Truden also has come under fire from Garfield County, which pays the bulk of her budget.In June, the county commissioners took her to task for spending two-thirds of her budget in the first five months of her administration. Truden countered that she needed the money to cover salaries to fill eight vacancies in her office.The county released funds allocated to her budget to cover salaries. At a hearing in July, Truden said she could see the year through with the monies that remain in her budget although she countered that the county’s accounting system will continue to make her spending look skewed.For example, she pays $73,920 in annual rent to the county. “Garfield County charges me for office space they’re required to provide,” she said. Pitkin and Rio Blanco provide free office space.Further, Garfield County did not put the money to cover rent in the budget, she said.”They charge me for something they didn’t give me the money to pay for,” she said.Despite the negative publicity that surrounds her office, Truden said, “Most people don’t want to listen to the trash talk. Most people want to know what you’re going to do. … We’re so busy with what we’re supposed to be doing I don’t have time to get caught up in the trash talk.”As to the personnel turnover, Truden likened it to the changes a CEO might make in a large corporation. Sometimes it’s necessary, and in the long run strengthens the company.”People see me making changes. … It’s painful sometimes.”News editor G. Sean Kelly contributed to this story.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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