5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown running for another term
District Attorney Candidates
This is the first of three profiles of candidates running for district attorney in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District, comprised of Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties.
Tuesday: Republican Bruce Carey.
Wednesday: Democrat Bruce Brown.
Thursday: Independent Sanam Mehrnia.
EAGLE — Some people are in jail because they need to be. Others just need a hand getting back on the right track, says District Attorney Bruce Brown.
Brown is wrapping up his first term as district attorney in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District — Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties. The Democratic incumbent is running for re-election against Republican Bruce Carey and independent Sanam Mehrnia.
“I live in this community, and I have a strong interest in making sure my family and my community are well protected,” Brown said. “Police agencies can do an outstanding job, but if you do not have a prosecutor in the courtroom, the community is not well protected.”
He learned the job is more complex and challenging than he imagined when he first won three-and-a half years ago.
“That’s the same response you’d get from the 22 elected district attorneys around the state,” Brown said. “It’s a great job; every day it throws something new at me. That can be good, but it can also be gut-wrenching and challenging.”
He said he wants to continue offering and expanding programs that keep people out of jail.
“The key is identifying the people who present the greatest risk and asking the court to impose a punitive sanction and distinguishing between those folks and those who are novices in the criminal justice system, and trying to deliver services to them that might be rehabilitative, through probation or juvenile diversion,” he said.
Down to cases
Brown said he carries a caseload. Not a specific number, but where he’s needed most. He led Traci Cunningham’s murder prosecution, “with the great assistance of other attorneys in the office,” he said.
Right now, he’s leading a homicide case stemming from an overdose, as well as the attempted murder of a woman in Idaho Springs, in which a man doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.
“The cases that I carry tend to be those of the most serious crime,” Brown said. “That’s based in part on my experience of being an attorney for 30 years and having tried more than a dozen murder cases in my career, experience that is not mirrored by any other attorney through the four counties of the 5th Judicial District.
“I identify the cases that are the most serious, because that’s a better use of my expertise,” he said.
It’s not all about the office
Brown said he helped write a bill that requires sex offenders, upon arrest, to see a judge. Prior to that, state law allowed them post bond before ever seeing a judge, he said.
A judge can set conditions — keeping sex offenders away from playgrounds and parks, banning them from the internet, where they might exchange exploitative images.
“The are so many hats the elected DA wears, that pigeonholing the elected district attorney to any one of them does not serve the community well,” Brown said.
People convicted to nonviolent crimes sometimes make donations to nonprofit organizations, which allows them to avoid returning to court from far-flung places.
The program is one of the many issues on which Brown, Carey, and Mehrnia disagree.
Carey says it’s a form of purchasing lighter sentences. Brown said that during his first term, those people have put $150,000 in the hands of local nonprofits that would not otherwise be there. Those organizations provide services to the needy people of this judicial district, instead of defendants paying fines.
Money from fines goes to the state and we never see it again, Brown said.
“For the most part, the funds are for low-level offenses and become a win-win for the offender and the criminal justice system. If a defendant wants to participate and cannot afford the fee, they can opt for community service instead, which they could do in their community.”
In the crosshairs
Brown’s first term has not passed without some heat. He slid off Interstate 70 and totaled a company car in Dowd Junction in December at about 6:30 a.m. on a snowy, icy morning. He filed an accident report online with the Colorado State Patrol. Some, however, claim he left the scene. He said he’s happy to lead anyone who asks down that paper trail.
He found himself in the crosshairs with Front Range media over accusations about his vacation time, which he says averages between two and three days a month.
“As a single dad, I take some of my vacation in bulk because the most important thing to me is my family,” Brown said.
He said as district attorney he works an average of 50 to 60 hours a week. “It’s not always 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. when the criminal decides it’s time for law enforcement to respond. Sometimes the DA is part of that. Each of the attorneys is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and I’m one of those.”
Brown made Heidi McCollum the second female Assistant District Attorney in the history of the 5th Judicial District. Karen Romeo was the first, appointed by Mark Hurlbert in 2005. McCollum is a native of Eagle.
“I think sometimes (time off) can be misconstrued,” McCollum said. “Being out of the office is not vacation. Heading out to the scene of a homicide at 2 a.m. is not vacation.”
McCollum said when Brown is giving testimony to the state Legislature, that’s not vacation.
“Simply because someone is out of the office does not mean they’re on vacation,” McCollum said. “I work a lot of hours, but I cannot keep up with the work production that Mr. Brown puts out.”
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