Truden hires husband, raises eyebrows
ASPEN – Since Colleen Truden took over as district attorney four months ago, three deputy district attorneys and scores of administrative staff members across three counties have resigned due to philosophical differences.Additionally, Truden hired her husband to work in the Glenwood Springs office of the 9th Judicial District, an office that she has had workers expand. Defense attorneys contacted for this story said more cases are being prosecuted and that leniency in plea offers has declined.But one downvalley police chief said his department has never functioned as smoothly with the district attorney’s office as it has under Truden’s administrationTruden was in Aspen Wednesday interviewing a candidate to replace former Deputy District Attorney Gail Nichols, who resigned in late March. Her last day was to be April 30, but Truden, Assistant District Attorney Vince Felletter and an investigator from the district attorney’s office escorted Nichols out of the building April 8. Nichols is a former chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.Jeff Cheney, a deputy district attorney in Glenwood Springs, received similar treatment. He resigned last week and was let go Monday, said Walt Brown, a veteran defense attorney in Glenwood Springs. He also said a deputy district attorney in Rio Blanco County recently resigned, as well.As it stands now there’s just “not enough bodies” to handle the district caseload, Nichols said during her going-away party at the Cantina Wednesday night. The office manager at the Aspen branch also recently resigned.Asked if new administrations often see so many employees leaving, Brown said, “No. This is very abnormal to see this many people go. There’s this large exodus of people that in my 27 years of practice I’ve never seen here.”A lack of experience could now be problematic. He said that Chris Gaddis, the temporary deputy district attorney in Aspen, was previously handling juvenile cases. A deputy district attorney appointed in Glenwood Springs has only four or five months of district court experience, Brown said.”The office is losing all of its experience. The lack of deputies with experience is going to be a problem,” he said. “What you lose is a reason to be there if you’re a younger deputy. You don’t have any experience to gain because there’s nobody in the office with experience to learn from.”When you have the caseload increasing, as I think it will with this influx of oil-field workers in Rio Blanco County and Garfield County, you’re going to need somebody who has got the experience to run a larger caseload.”In Pitkin County District Court on Monday, five felony cases were continued. Truden’s lack of prosecutorial experience was an issue in the campaign for district attorney in which she defeated Lawson Wills. She was a municipal court judge in Glenwood Springs who had never handled a felony-level case before being elected district attorney.Snowmass Village lawyer Arnie Mordkin, a former councilman, said he has also seen a difference in how minor cases are handled.”Clearly there’s been a change,” he said.He referred to Truden’s recent ending of an effective domestic violence diversion program for first-time, minor offenders in the 9th Judicial District. He called the program “extremely significant.”Alcohol-related driving offenses are also handled differently. “It’s more difficult to negotiate lesser offenses than it was,” Mordkin said.Asked if the district attorney’s office was taking a harder line, he said, “I hate to put it in those terms because that would suggest to some people that the prior DA was lax, which is not true. It is more difficult to obtain a satisfactory negotiation from the defendant’s point of view.”Nichols said she left because “We have different approaches to how to run the office and treat people. She’s the DA, she has the right to run it as she sees fit.”But hiring her husband is unusual, Brown said.”You usually don’t hire family members. I was surprised to see him working there because I thought when you work for the government, that’s not what you do,” he said. “I haven’t seen other elected officials in the county hiring their husbands or their wives.”Truden did not return messages left at her office and home.Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling said that under Truden’s administration, his department has seen “a lot more cooperation and a lot more input from the DA’s office” in cases.The district attorney’s office usually handles a case from the department in one of three ways, Schilling said. Sometimes cases need more work and will be remanded back to the police; or they are accepted or rejected. “We seem to be getting a lot more cooperation in that area. We’re able to call someone and get input into things they might want when we’re working on a case, before we submit it to them.”Overall, the district attorney’s office now is “a little more aggressive than it needs to be,” Brown said. “We’re not really running a series of murder (cases) here or anything like that.”And the wave of resignations and the subsequent muffling of Truden’s staff – deputy district attorneys are now strictly prohibited from speaking to the media about policy – are not good for the pursuit of justice, Brown said.”I’ve never seen such a large group of people go, and then there’s this silence coming out of the office. It’s very disorienting to the system.””I’ve never seen such a large group of people go, and then there’s this silence coming out of the office. It’s very disorienting to the system.”
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