DA Bruce Brown readies to step down after 8 years in office
District Attorney Bruce Brown will be leaving office next month after eight years at the helm of the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Brown was elected to the post in 2012 to serve as the chief prosecutor for Summit, Lake, Clear Creek and Eagle counties, along with overseeing the numerous administrative efforts and community programs associated with the office. His second term officially will come to an end Jan. 12, when he’ll hand over the reigns to his longtime Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum, who was elected to the role following a contested primary in June.
While Brown said no attorney is ever able to leave without some unfinished business, he’s confident the team they’ve assembled over the years is ready to thrive under new leadership.
“The prosecutor’s office is not about the district attorney,” Brown said. “It’s about the group of people who come together in order to hold people accountable to do justice and to take good care of victims. All of that is in place. I’m so gratified that I can close the DA door behind me and feel like the high quality of work that we do every day is going to continue and even get better.
“It is time for me to move on. Term limits have kicked me out, so to speak. But I think it’s a good thing for me personally to challenge myself in a new venture, and it’s also a healthy thing for the community to have a different perspective. I do think, while Heidi and I have worked closely together, she will bring different perspectives, different priorities and will put her own stamp on justice in the 5th Judicial.”
Brown started his career in 1986 as a public defender in Los Angeles and later moved into private practice doing criminal defense work around California. He moved to Colorado in 2002 and opened up his own criminal defense practice out of Idaho Springs.
Brown ran a failed campaign for 5th Judicial District attorney in 2003 before his eventual election to the role in 2012. After 26 years working in criminal defense, he began prosecuting his first cases.
“I had to learn a lot,” Brown said. “I had to learn the judges, I had to learn the defense bar, and I had to learn how to work with local law enforcement, who were quite skeptical of having a person who’d never been a prosecutor take office and have the ability to follow up on their investigations and to make the right calls to prosecute or not to prosecute.”
Local law enforcement leaders said Brown found his way in the new job fast.
“I do remember there being talk about that,” said Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons. “But I believe everybody gets a fair shot, and I thought he hit the ground running and proved himself. … We’ve always had a great collaborative relationship on things we needed to get through, whether it was difficult cases, difficult crime scenes or even COVID-19.”
“He did a good job,” Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor added. “He was always available answering questions, always attended the chiefs’ meetings and always kept us up to date in the DA world. … He helped us work on some complex cases over the years, and those were always well thought out.”
Brown said his focus as the district attorney was protecting public safety and allowing people to feel safe in their homes and communities. He prioritized many cases that were important to mountain communities, such as the aggressive prosecution of cases regarding individuals who recklessly started fires, including the conviction of the couple who started the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt in 2018 and the man whose specialty ammo started the Frey Gulch Fire in Summit County in 2016.
Among his other prosecutorial priorities, Brown pointed to the district’s dedicated sex assault review team, which — paired with the development of the TreeTop Child Advocacy Center in Breckenridge and forensic medical examination capabilities in Eagle and Summit counties — has allowed the office to respond to complaints of sex assault through to prosecution in recent years.
Brown also said he was committed to upholding the integrity of the district by pursuing prosecutions against corrupt public servants, including a former Lake County undersheriff convicted of attempted incest, a Frisco man caught embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Hamilton Creek Metro District and a Lake County deputy who stole firearms from an evidence locker, among others.
Brown said that while crimes like embezzlement aren’t typically handled by smaller, more rural district attorney’s offices, his ambition from the beginning was to create a team of prosecutors capable of handling anything.
“My goal was to give this district every tool that existed in the big cities,” Brown said. “We didn’t have dedicated units, but we created a team of attorneys and investigators for whom there isn’t any case they aren’t up to handling. That is, in my opinion, a huge accomplishment — not of mine, but of the team that constitutes the current district attorney’s office, from the attorneys down to the legal admins who do clerical work. They can handle any type of case no matter the size, seriousness or complexity.”
With a good team in place, Brown said he was able to turn his attention to other programs meant to improve the district’s communities more comprehensively. Under Brown, the DA’s office saw the implementation of a standing grand jury — a rarity for smaller communities — along with the development of adult diversion and felony summons programs, both meant to emphasize restorative justice in lieu of punishment and identify which offenders would benefit most from alternatives to jail or prison time.
“We’re identifying offenders who deserve the most resources and punitive consequences and separating them from the offenders who can be helped out through more holistic thinking,” Brown said. “The philosophy is … not being afraid to do things differently.”
Looking back on his time in office, Brown said there were some meaningful moments — like the two homicides on which he served as lead council — and some cases he wishes he’d get to continue working on. But overall, he’s ready to move on to whatever comes next.
Brown said he intends to continue his law career, perhaps remaining a prosecutor and sticking closer to his home in Clear Creek County, to avoid the frequent trips he’s taken between offices on Interstate 70 over the years, or even taking a job in the Denver metro area.
“I don’t have anything really lined up yet,” Brown said. “For 34 years, I’ve basically worked as a lawyer uninterrupted. So I’m looking perhaps for a few months on sabbatical.”
He said community members still would be able to see him around from time to time.
“I’m grateful for this community for giving me this opportunity,” Brown said. “It was the best job, certainly, that I’ve ever had. I think I was somewhat of an unknown in some respects coming into office as a defense attorney. The community took a risk on me, and I’ve worked very hard and hopefully have given back to the community in equal measure.
“I’m not going away. I’ll still be around in some capacity or involvement. It’s been a great experience.”
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