Caloia fires senior prosecutor Barrett, cites insubordination
Hidden tensions between the district attorney and her senior trial prosecutor climaxed Friday morning with a fiery dismissal for what DA Sherry Caloia called insubordination.
Caloia fired Deputy District Attorney Matt Barrett, her office’s lead prosecutor, after she said he went behind her back to alter the direction of a case that he wasn’t prosecuting.
Barrett, who denied Caloia’s version of events, has successfully led many of the DA’s highest-profile recent cases, including in the first-degree murder trial of Arturo Navarrete-Portillo and the embezzlement trial of Erin Pressler. He was slated to head the prosecution of the first-degree murder trial of Matthew Ogden before the defendant recently accepted a plea deal.
Barrett has been taking an insubordinate position “since he realized that I wasn’t going to win re-election,” Caloia told the Post Independent by phone Friday.
Caloia, a Democrat, lost her bid for re-election in the November election to Republican Jeff Cheney, who also initially hired Barrett as an assistant district attorney at the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
In the case that led to the blow-up, Joshua Trevino faced a charge of second-degree assault of a police officer. Caloia wanted to give Trevino a community corrections sentence, which the probation department recommended, but she said Barrett was intent on prison time.
Though Barrett was not leading the prosecution on this case, Caloia said that while she was out of the office, he told the deputy district attorney on the case and law enforcement that the prosecution was taking a different position.
“He was directly insubordinate, and I fired him. End of story,” Caloia said.
In an email to Barrett with the subject line “I need you to leave,” Caloia wrote, “You have directly ignored my direction and been insubordinate. It is not acceptable. You have learned that you can ignore me and insult me with no consequence. Please leave. I am sure that Jeff will rehire you.”
That email and Barrett’s response were forwarded anonymously to the Post Independent.
Barrett’s response to Caloia’s email said her “offer to Mr. Trevino was completely incongruent with your duty as the lead law enforcement of this jurisdiction.”
“You are actively trying to resolve serious and high-profile cases without consultation with law enforcement or the people you have hired to handle the cases directly,” Barrett said. “You can take your anger out on me. That’s fine. I will leave. But, much like your attempts to fire others over the past few weeks it will correct nothing. Whether Jeff rehires me or not is not my concern. My concern is that the oath you have taken, and are charged with upholding, is being effectuated.”
The DA said she had “counseled him for a couple of weeks now that I have a different philosophy about prosecution than him.”
“My position is not wrong, it is different,” she told the PI. “I am not violating any oath of office. You can ask any attorney you want, except Jeff Cheney, that there are many different avenues to go on these cases. I believe that prison is a very last alternative because when they come out they are not better.”
Barrett told the Post Independent on Friday afternoon that he did not believe that he’d gone behind Caloia’s back.
He said the two had spoken about Trevino’s case, and he believed they were on the same page about the direction to take. He then spoke with the deputy handling the case and communicated what he thought was the agreed-upon position for the prosecution.
Barrett added that he did not send the Post Independent the email communication between himself and Caloia.
Barrett said that whether Cheney would hire Barrett back will be up to Cheney.
Otherwise, Barrett said his email to Caloia speaks for itself.
Given his lead role among prosecutors, his absence at the DA’s office is bound to be burdensome. But Barrett said he “has the utmost confidence in all the prosecutors to handle the cases before them.”
Earlier this week, The Aspen Times reported that because of a shortage of prosecutors, the office plea bargained a theft case that involved selling fake New Mexico elk-hunting permits. Joshua Meacham could have faced jail time on one count of felony theft and one count of misdemeanor theft, but the plea deal recommended no incarceration.
Meacham was offered the plea deal because the DA’s office recently lost two experienced attorneys and didn’t have a lawyer available to cover Meacham’s trial, Deputy DA Sarah Oczczakiewicz said in the Times article.
Meacham would have had to agree to a continuance in the case in order for a DA to cover the trial. If he didn’t agree, the case would have had to be dismissed under speedy trial rules, she said.