Distance is wide between D.A.’s candidates | VailDaily.com

Distance is wide between D.A.’s candidates

Veronica Whitney

To District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, his 10 years of experience as a prosecutor in the mountains should help people make up their minds and vote for him in November. But Bruce Brown, a defense attorney from Clear Creek County who is challenging the incumbent prosecutor for the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s seat, said he’s running because he believes there’s a need for improvement. “It’s about experience in prosecuting and in the district,” Hurlbert said during a debate with Brown on local attorney Rohn Robbins’ radio program, “Community Focus,” which airs tonight. “I have been here for 25 years. I have seen the way that Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties have changed. I’ve been a part of the community,” said Hurlbert, a 35-year-old Republican from Breckenridge who is leading the rape prosecution of L.A. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, among other cases. Brown, 41, is a Democrat who has been a defense attorney for 18 years and has a practice in Lakewood. He told Robbins high turnover in the District Attorney’s Office is one of his concerns.

“I don’t have political ambition. My primary role as a district attorney would be to get solid attorneys for each office and train them,” Brown said. Cash for crime fightersSalaries in the district are paid from a pool of money from the four counties in the Fifth Judicial District – Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties, which have a population of about 82,000 people.”We need to raise salaries for the deputy district attorneys and that’s a job for the county commissioners,” Brown said.

Gov. Bill Owens appointed Hurlbert in December 2002 to replace former District Attorney Mike Goodbee, a Democrat who left the district to work for State Attorney General Ken Salazar. By the time Hurlbert took office, several prosecutors had already left his Eagle office, leaving him with the task of organizing a new team.”Mike left the office in kind of a mess,” said Hurlbert, who manages 10 district attorneys throughout the district. “There were positions open and some opened up after I took office. There was this turmoil going on, but since I took over the office I have settled a lot of it down. “Attracting people here isn’t a problem,” Hurlbert added. “The trick is getting people who are willing to stay. Although starting salaries aren’t high, we bumped them up pretty quickly. We also offer a pretty flexible schedule when possible.”Going to courtThe candidates also disagreed over how to deal with budget deficits. Brown said he would look at conserving resources by being selective on what cases to prosecute.

“Maybe we won’t be able to prosecute every minor case,” he said. “But I would never waive filing charges in DUI cases and issues involving domestic violence. Those cases may start out minor, but very quickly escalate to major.”Hurlbert said that might result in a less aggressive prosecutor’s office. “I’m concerned he wouldn’t prosecute all cases that are prosecutable,” Hurlbert said. “The DA has to prosecute the cases that are prosecutable.”Where the office could save money is in dealing with sexual assault cases, Hurlbert added.”They are highly technical and take a lot of time,” he said.

To curb costs, starting this fall Hurlbert will have one prosecutor handling all sexual assault cases. And if he had any extra money, Hurlbert said salaries for lawyers and administrative employees at his office would be his No. 1 priority.”Salaries not only for the attorneys but for the staff – and more training,” he said. “It would be great if everyone could have a specialty.”But Brown said extra money should got to the courts, which have been operating with a limited budget.”Also, victim services could get more resources,” he said. Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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