EAGLE, Colorado - The two district attorney candidates hammered each other in a candidate forum, disagreeing about almost everything in a spirited exchange.
Democrat Bruce Brown and Republican Scott Turner squared off Monday night, sponsored by the Eagle County Republican Women.
Turner stressed his experience as a prosecutor with the District Attorney's Office, while Brown said it's time for a change and that he's the candidate for that change.
"I'm the only candidate with any prosecution experience, supervising employees, with budgets and handling the big cases, worked with organizations for victims. Look at not just what we say but what we've done," Turner said.
Brown fired back.
"We've had the same DA for the past 10 years and we are going to get change. I'm that candidate for change," Brown said. "I want to be an advocate and clear communicator for victims. My training is as an advocate for my client. The No. 1 thing you should want in your next district attorney is the best lawyer in the courtroom.
The two faced a series of questions from the panel and the public. Among them:
Do you believe the DA's office possesses the resources it needs?
Brown: "Are there sufficient resources? There is not," he said.
He said complex cases like drug trafficking end up in federal court, but that there's no reason those cases can't stay in Eagle County if some of the prosecuting attorneys get the mentoring they need.
He said selling assets seized from people who use them in criminal acts could bolster the budget.
Turner: "I would disagree. There are adequate resources," he said.
The office handles about 4,000 cases a year, but half are traffic cases.
Turner bristled at Brown's assertion that prosecutors are failing to convict accused felons.
"Maybe he missed the Moreau case, or the attempted homicide case I prosecuted where the perpetrator got 48 years," Turner said. "I stand by any prosecution I've ever made. It's not a score-keeping game. It's about justice and I stand by the justice I've been part of achieving."
Do illegal immigrants contribute disproportionately to the crime rate?
Turner: Illegal immigrants don't commit crimes at a higher rate than most other groups, he said.
Immigration itself falls under the federal purview, he said.
"If they're going to remain in this community, we should work with them to make sure they remain law abiding," he said. "They're here and the feds are not going to do anything about them. We should work with them to make them as law abiding as possible."
Brown: "It's a sociological question," he said. "People who come here illegally are more likely to be victimized."
The district attorney always has latitude in charges, and everything needs to be considered, he said.
"I would never give an illegal immigrant access to a plea agreement that a citizen wouldn't get," he said
Colorado reports lower crime rates than other states except for forcible rape. Can you explain this?
Turner: "The difference is the rate of reporting," he said.
He cited studies indicating that about 40 percent of sexual assaults are reported.
"With education that number has increased," he said. "The victims were made aware and were able to report it."
Victims are sometimes confused about what constitutes sex assault, he said.
"Sex assaults have not increased in our communities, but education has, and that has increased the rate of reporting," he said.
Brown: "There are historic misperceptions of about what constitutes rape," he said. "It's sad that the number of reported cases is up 25 percent, but I don't think it indicates an increase of sex assault, but an increase in the rate of reporting."
After the Kobe Bryant case there was a decrease in sex assault reporting for a couple years, he said.
"The primary emphasis has to be on reporting and to carry it on through to convictions," he said.
Do you support Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana in Colorado?
Brown: "I support legalizing marijuana for adults," he said.
He called Colorado's medical marijuana system "flawed."
"So many adults are choosing to buy it illegally, and when a law is so widespread in its violation, we have to look at that law and determine its effectiveness."
He draws the line at children.
"We have to protect the children. If someone is selling marijuana to children, they need to know there are consequences and they'd better be ready to face them."
He said rehabilitation and recovery programs should be available for people who need and want them.
"If people get in trouble we need them to feel they're loved and cared for," he said
Turner: "I agree there are problems with the system, but you don't solve the problem by scrapping the system," he said. "I am against Amendment 64. As Gov. Hickenlooper said, 'It hurts the kids.' It's a fallacy to believe it only affects adults."
In places where medical marijuana is available, marijuana use is up 50 percent, he said.
"Drug use in this community has skyrocketed," Turner said.
He said that at Denver Health, 90 percent of underage marijuana users say they got it from someone with a medical marijuana card.
What adults do in their own homes is their business.
"I don't care if you're 30 years old, watch ESPN and smoke dope on the couch all day," he said.
Colorado has a higher incarceration rate than a crime rate, with mandatory sentences for drugs and non-violent criminals. Is that a wise use of resources in this economy?
Turner: "The logic is simple. If you put bad guys away they can't do any more crimes. But we cannot continue to go down that path," he said.
He suggested alternatives such as intervention and drug and alcohol courts to help keep people out of prison.
"They're not getting those types of programs when they're behind bars," he said.
Drug courts are not free, he said, and it's about funding and resources.
Brown: "With more people behind bars that's money that doesn't go to education," he said.
He said he'd like to see as many out of prison as possible, and that people in prison should not be non-violent.
He said the region's only juvenile drug court is in Summit County.
"We should make those programs available to people throughout the Fifth Judicial District," Brown said.
If a juvenile is caught with possession and paraphernalia, it indicates they have a problem with drugs, he said. He would require them to go to a program at their own expense, if need be.
Is voter fraud an issue in this county?
Turner: "A dozen instances of alleged voter fraud are being investigated by the District Attorney's Office. Some people say one case of voter fraud is significant," Turner said.
He said every case they discover would be investigated and prosecuted.
Brown: "If there's a perception of a problem we need to deal with it in an adult discussion," he said. "We have to put our resources where they can best be used. If we uncover voter fraud, it should be prosecuted."
Like everyone else, prosecutors will do the best they can with what they have.
"We cannot prosecute every crime. There's a sorting process," he said. "Violent crime takes precedent over lesser crime."
"When I'm the DA people will disagree with me. If there's a rational reason about why what I'm doing is wrong, we'll say that. Occasionally we're going to make mistakes, but we're going to get it right in the end."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.