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Truden loses Hershey

Deputy District Attorney Tony Hershey resigned Wednesday from the embattled office of 9th Judicial District Attorney Colleen Truden, saying in his resignation letter that he could not work “in an atmosphere of abuse, disrespect and outright hostility.” Hershey, a former Aspen city councilman, had been with Truden since she took office in January. He is the first attorney whom she hired, to tender a resignation; five other deputy district attorneys have resigned since Truden took office, but they were all holdovers from former District Attorney Mac Myers’ office.Among the reasons Hershey gave for quitting was he was being pressured by Truden and Assistant District Attorney Vince Felletter to speak with defense attorneys only via telephone, instead of meeting with them in person to discuss cases. Hershey said his bosses were especially worried about meetings with defense attorneys who had previously served as prosecutors under Myers.”They’re paranoid. You can’t talk to any defense attorneys because they’re all out to get [Truden and Felletter],” he said. “But I have to as part of my job.”One of our ethical obligations is to meet with attorneys and discuss cases in an effort to resolve them,” he said. “If I’m not permitted to do that, that’s a violation of my oath as an attorney in the state of Colorado. Being communicative with opposing counsel is part of our responsibility.”To maintain that aspect of his obligation, he said he preferred face-to-face meetings. “I like to be friendly and talk. We chat a little and then talk about the case.”Hershey said Truden and Felletter sat him down recently to discuss problems they were having with him. One of the problems he said they raised was a recent visit by Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, a Truden critic.”We’re friends from when I was on City Council. He just came to see me, and that was on the list of things that they talked to me about last week,” Hershey said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. She went ballistic. Vince talked to me about it, then she talked to me about it.”Not helping matters for Hershey was the fact that he was quoted in the Aspen Daily News and a Grand Junction newspaper in stories concerning the shooting death of a 9-year-old boy in Battlement Mesa. Talking to reporters is a strict no-no in Truden’s office, although she campaigned on a promise of instilling an open-door policy.”They got really mad about that because we’re not allowed to talk to the press,” he said.But it was a meeting he had on Monday with Jim Leuthauser, a defense attorney who worked as a prosecutor for the previous two district attorneys, that led to Hershey’s resignation.Their conversation took place in the hallway outside the district attorney’s office in the courthouse. Hershey said Felletter came out of the office and started yelling at him.”I wasn’t talking to Jim Leuthauser about [Truden], I was talking to him about a case,” he said. “And they didn’t even believe that when I told them. If I was going to conspire with a defense attorney who used to work with Mac Myers, I wouldn’t do it in front of her office.”Leuthauser could not be reached for comment.”I used to work in the entertainment industry, for a writer-director who I thought belonged in an insane asylum,” Hershey said. “But he wasn’t as bad as she is or Vince is.”The Leuthauser incident carried into a staff meeting Tuesday night. Felletter reportedly “went ballistic” after Hershey pointed out that incidents like the one that occurred in the hallway led to a “climate of fear” for Truden’s employees.”We got into a thing, and I left the meeting because I didn’t want to say anything stupid,” Hershey said. “And then I thought I was fired, actually.” So he cleaned out his desk.In his letter he said Truden and Felletter are “too paranoid” to see that meeting with defense attorneys is part of the job. That is “unfortunate because your leadership style does not hurt me as much as it hurts the people you serve and who depend on you for justice,” he wrote.Neither Truden nor Felletter returned messages Wednesday. Her office released a statement saying that Hershey had left, a deputy district attorney had been promoted and a new one had been hired.Hershey’s resignation is the latest in a list of setbacks for Truden. Hershey is the sixth deputy district attorney to resign since she took office, along with four staff members. A recall effort led by two of her former deputy district attorneys is under way.Truden has also sparked outcry by paying her husband for computer work, her financial management – resulting in Garfield County’s seizure of her office’s credit cards – and for failing, critics say, to live up to campaign promises to be tougher on crime.Alex Rothrock, chairman of the Colorado Bar Association’s ethics committee, was taken aback when told of Truden’s apparent policy of negotiating cases by phone.”That’s odd. As a professional, I sure wouldn’t want to have that dictated to me, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he left,” Rothrock said. “I think that many times people are able to resolve cases and issues within cases just by sitting down and talking face to face.”Rothrock, the author of “Essays on Legal Ethics and Professional Conduct in Colorado,” said there is another problem with negotiating cases by phone.”Sometimes when all the communications are by telephone,” he said, “there is a practice among some lawyers to send letters to the other lawyer after the telephone call ostensibly confirming a conversation that bears little resemblance to the actual conversation that took place.”Local attorneys were surprised to hear that Hershey resigned.”You’re kidding me,” said John Van Ness, a defense attorney who worked with Hershey on numerous cases. “I thought he did an excellent job. He was extremely helpful and courteous. He paid attention to the law, he offered reasonable plea bargains and kept the docket moving.”Aspen defense attorney Chip McCrory agreed. He said Hershey, upon being hired, was faced with a county court docket that was “a total mess.”Cases had been set two or three times for trial, and “you could not get a trial date within the speedy trial [requirement] of six months because it was so backed up. He cleaned that whole mess up,” McCrory said.Hershey’s meeting last week with Truden and Felletter was the second time he had been reprimanded, he said, though “not for my work, but for improper behavior with defense attorneys, and for being friendly with staff and not being nice to Colleen, which I always thought I was nice to her and I don’t understand.”I felt they were gunning for me, that they didn’t trust me. People talk to people, and you can’t control that.”Contact Chad Abraham: chad@aspentimes.com


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