Summit Daily editorial: No clear choice in district attorney race
October 27, 2016
Of all the local races this election season, the 5th Judicial District Attorney contest has piled up the most mud. Unfortunately, this dynamic has shifted the focus away from qualifications and onto the candidates' past indiscretions.
Each candidate had their own brush with the law: Republican Bruce Carey faced bribery and witness tampering charges back in the 1990s. Independent Sanam Mehrnia had a DUI back when she was in college. Brown's opponents alleged that he crashed a government-owned vehicle and didn't report it correctly, a misdemeanor offense. And who could forget the plant Brown stole in Vail when he was 21?
The Summit Daily has paid close attention to all of these incidents, as ancient as some of them may be. We believe it is important for voters to know about a candidate's criminal history, especially when he or she is seeking to become the top enforcer of the law in a district serving Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties. However, voters must also look at experience and credentials when deciding on district attorney.
Mehrnia has impressive energy and ideas. And she has raised valid concerns and criticisms about how Brown has run his office, particularly when it comes to over-criminalizing minor offenses to gain leverage over defendants. She has a bright future, to be sure. However, she has never worked as a prosecutor and has been a defense attorney for only seven years. We believe she isn't yet ready to take on such a massive responsibility as a leader. Maybe some day.
Carey also has worked as a defense attorney for the bulk of his 27-year legal career. After graduating from law school, he did briefly work as a prosecutor in the 5th Judicial District from 1989 to 1991. He was fired for failing to show up for a felony case hearing. Since then, Carey has built up a strong reputation as the man to have in your corner if you've been charged with a DUI. However, it is unclear if he is ready to take on the major responsibility of heading the DA's office.
Like his opponents, Brown worked as a defense attorney for his entire career until he was elected DA and put in charge of a 37-person office. Even though he had worked big murder cases prior to assuming the post, the transition clearly has been a messy and jarring learning experience for Brown. A young girl was seriously injured because of the way Brown's office dealt with the perpetrator in previous criminal cases. Brown publicly apologized for the failing.
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His former opponent, ex-District Attorney Mark Hulbert, who served in the post for 10 years, blasted Brown in a letter to the editor in which he threw his support behind Carey.
"Currently, the office has a constant revolving door of lawyers and staff," Hulbert wrote. "The lawyers are untrained and are given no guidance. And when these new and untrained lawyers are in court against more experienced defense counsel, then the guilty go free, victims are hurt and our safety is put in serious jeopardy. A lack of training and guidance is a lack of leadership at the top. Bruce Carey will not only show the leadership to put an end to the revolving door but also provide the training and guidance needed."
His words give us pause, certainly in considering Brown's re-election bid. While we don't think Brown has distinguished himself as a top-flight prosecutor or a leader, we also struggle to envision Carey, given his lack of prosecutorial experience, moving the needle either.
Although, we strive to give voters guidance in our endorsements, we don't feel that we can, in good conscience, advocate for a particular candidate in this race. Read our reporting, weigh the facts and make your decision.
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