5th Judicial District Attorney: Republican Bruce Carey stresses quality over quantity
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series profiling the candidates for the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. The previous installment on Sept. 22 featured independent candidate Sanam Mehrnia. The final installment on Oct. 6 will feature Democratic incumbent Bruce Brown.
When Bruce Carey was 6 years old, his family’s home burned down, forcing them to move into a hotel. There, Carey befriended a shoeshine boy who was going to get kicked out of the hotel after it was discovered he was working too close to another shine station down the hall. Carey went to the hotel’s manager and pled the boy’s case, working out a compromise.
Carey, who is now 60 and running as a Republican for district attorney in Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District — which includes Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties — likes to think of that as the first case he ever won.
Sitting in the living room of his Eagle home, where he lives with his wife, Theresa, Carey wouldn’t strike you as a former Army sergeant. Leaning forward, he paused with an impish grin waiting to deliver the punch line of another “dad” joke.
“There were two guys in my battalion that passed the skills qualifications test, and I was one of them,” he said. “You know what that means? I’m smarter than your average bear.”
His affability shifted, however, when he started to explain the reasons for his run, revealing his frustration with how the DA’s office is being run.
“Number of convictions alone should not be the most important measure of a DA’s success,” he said. “When I worked for the district attorney in Eagle, I was told to get convictions for charges, period. Twenty-five years later, I believe you should go to the root cause and prevent recidivism.”
Carey wants to bring adult diversion courts to the 5th, which allow some first-time, non-violent offenders to plead guilty, serve a deferred sentence with particular conditions like drug testing and then have their charges dismissed. He says this is a strategy that has proven to help get people out of the “revolving door” of county jails.
The same goes for DUI courts and other non-traditional justice strategies, such as problem-solving and mediation courts.
“With a lot of these DUI cases, many of whom need treatment, you could just warehouse them in county for a year,” said Carey. “But they’ll come out thirsty.”
Carey also thinks too many sexual assault cases are being pleaded down or lost by prosecutors, something he hopes to change by bringing in an experienced sexual assault trial lawyer that would serve as point person for all such cases in the 5th.
A life of the law
Carey grew up in a military boarding school in Pennsylvania, so joining the Army seemed natural. An added bonus: it was a way to get to Colorado. After four years stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, he attended University of Colorado at Boulder and earned a degree in conservation of mountain ecosystems. Shortly after, he got his JD from the University of Denver, then went to work as a deputy DA in the 5th, first in Georgetown and then Eagle.
It was during that time that Carey prosecuted one of the cases he is most proud of in his 39 years practicing law: Eagle County’s first criminal conviction of a reckless skier in 1990. In that case, a Vail local was charged with third-degree assault after launching over a cat track at high speed and T-boning a man in a ski school class.
“A case like that had never been done before,” he recalled. “I sought out a lot of help — from professionals, commentators — in defining what constitutes truly reckless skiing.”
While he is proud of his time as a deputy DA, he isn’t bashful about how it ended.
“I was fired,” he said matter-of-factly.
By Carey’s account, he was told to go cover for another attorney in a felony trial, but he never got the message. Needless to say, the judge was displeased when a prosecutor never showed up.
“We didn’t have cellphones back then,” Carey said.
After that, he set up his own criminal defense practice, a lean outfit consisting of usually just him but occasionally a partner or two. Although he doesn’t have experience managing large numbers of lawyers, as he would be expected to do as DA, Carey is confident that his experience as an Army sergeant gave him plenty of leadership experience.
In 1993, Carey had his own run-in with the law. While negotiating a plea deal for his client, Carey says the Leadville assistant police chief asked him for help getting a guide dog for his blind brother. Carey said he would help but only through a charitable organization. According to Carey, the assistant chief was recording the conversation, and Carey was charged with bribery.
He negotiated the charges down to a misdemeanor and continued practicing law, defending clients in cases ranging from sexual assaults, DUIs and drugs. But some memorable moments in his career happened outside the courtroom.
When a warren of national news vans and reporters sprang up outside the Eagle County courthouse during the 2003 Kobe Bryant trial, Carey was called on to offer commentary and analysis on ESPN and Fox News. He also did some work behind the camera as a legal consultant for the Perry Mason TV movie series, editing their scripts for Colorado law accuracy.
Carey has a lot of plans for his first few weeks in office, but there’s another program he’d like to see that isn’t part of his official platform — something he thinks is part of a bygone era of courtesy within the 5th.
“When I used to be a deputy DA here, defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, we would form softball teams and play each other,” he recalls. “My team was regularly beaten, but we had fun. There’s no reason why we can’t argue in court and be friendly with each other afterwards.”
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