Editorial: McCrory offers middle ground in DA race | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: McCrory offers middle ground in DA race

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We wish every political campaign had the caliber of candidates from whom voters get to choose for 9th Judicial District attorney.

Incumbent Sherry Caloia, Republican Jeff Cheney and independent Chip McCrory all are experienced attorneys who have thoughtful plans for the office.

Frankly, we think there will be less difference in case outcomes during the next four years no matter who is elected than campaign rhetoric might lead voters to believe. But we are concerned with:

• Caloia’s brusque style inside and outside her office and her sour relationship with some law enforcement agencies.

• The real risk that Cheney would be a rubber stamp for cops and would return to overreaching and sometimes moralistic charging practices of Martin Beeson, Caloia’s predecessor, whose office Cheney helped run as an assistant DA.

To defuse these concerns and to avoid having the office swing between extremes, our choice is McCrory.

We believe he:

• Knows the system from both sides, has extensive courtroom experience and will seek justice rather than ideological purity.

• Has the demeanor and credibility to work effectively with both victims and law enforcement. His demeanor, in fact, is key to this endorsement. He’s got an appealing bit of common-sense country lawyer in his style.

• Has the clarity and independence that will enable him to set standards that require law enforcement to make solid arrests that lead to convictions.

• Stands apart from the partisan finger-pointing that’s hampering the effectiveness of the office.

Caloia and Cheney have focused on each other, and told the PI they aren’t really running against McCrory — which we consider evidence of our belief that he represents a nonpolarizing middle ground. (We don’t mean to suggest that Caloia and Cheney backed him — they believe themselves to be the best candidate, but each also said they weren’t focused on McCrory and did not make a case against him.)

Let’s step back a second.

District attorney is a really important office for our region — the 9th Judicial District covers Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties. Unlike most elected officials, the DA can have a direct impact on your life, should you be a crime victim, get caught driving drunk or have a loved one or friend screw up and run afoul of the law.

The DA stands up for victims and holds sway over offenders, some of whom can be set back on the course to productive lives, as Caloia has sought to do with her diversion program aimed mostly at young people. It’s not just about punishment, and all three candidates talk about doing justice.

It’s also a super tough job to walk that balance between taking bad guys and gals off the street and giving those who deserve it a chance at redemption.

The facts of life for any DA include:

• Lots of plea bargains. The system breaks without them.

• Someone who gets a plea deal will commit a high-profile crime and the DA will be criticized. No matter who wins the election.

• Some victims and their families will feel like the DA didn’t provide justice. The evidence might not be there, the law might be too nuanced, the defense attorney might do a really good job of establishing reasonable doubt in a justice system that is designed to assume innocence (but really doesn’t in practice).

• Some offenders and their families will feel like the DA unjustly overcharged them.

• Law enforcement at times will be disappointed or angry with decisions by prosecutors.

Caloia has experienced all these criticisms, as she will if she wins re-election — and as will her successor. We think she’s done a better job than her critics allow and that a big portion of the criticism is rooted in partisan politics. We find at least some truth in her assertion that Republican Sheriff Lou Vallario wants the DA’s office to do his bidding.

At the same time, Caloia is not much of a diplomat. She acknowledges that she micromanages her office and that she’s tough with police in insisting on sufficient evidence before OKing warrants. We’ve gotten accounts of her blunt nature seeming hurtful to victims and their families.

We think McCrory would be much more deft in navigating the naturally roiled waters of the job.

Despite Cheney’s protestations that the way Beeson ran the office doesn’t predict how he would run it, we are concerned that their philosophies are similar and about how close Cheney is to Vallario.

Cheney also says that Caloia has overused plea bargains and that clogged courts are not a good reason to strike deals. This smacks of a campaign promise he can’t fulfill. The truth is that he would either use plea deals as much as Caloia or, with 750 felony cases a year, he would clog the courts even more than they already are.

Underscore this: The next DA, whoever it is, will plea bargain the vast majority of cases.

So, summing up, because he has been both a prosecutor and defense attorney, because he is not beholden to either party or the sheriff and because he exudes common sense, we support McCrory.

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