Frisco attorney seeks district attorney job
District Attorney Candidates
This is the third 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 — Sanam Mehrnia said the District Attorney’s Office is over-criminalizing people, while not providing any resources to help them, and that’s why she’s running for district attorney.
Mehrnia, 33, has been a Colorado attorney since 2009. Before that, she was with the Arizona federal public defenders office while in law school, handling murder and coyote cases — people illegally transporting people and drugs.
She’s an outspoken critic of District Attorney Bruce Brown, a Democrat. Bruce Carey is the Republican opponent.
Mehrnia said she is a proud independent. The district attorney has plenty to do, she says, and she intends to take what’s best from both parties.
Felonies without foundation?
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The Frisco-based defense attorney says the current district attorney’s office consistently over-charges cases, charging felonies without a foundation.
“It’s scary living in our district. You don’t have to be a criminal to be charged with felonies here,” she said. “When people fall, take their hands and help them up. Right now, we’re kicking them into a pit.”
She’s directly involved in a couple cases that she says prove her point, and speaks to patterns of behavior with the District Attorney’s Office.
At a family event, a toddler less than two years old kept pulling a dog’s tail, as the toddler had repeatedly done with the family dog.
The dog growled a warning and the family moved the dog and the toddler away from each other, but the toddler found its way back to the dog and pulled its tail again. The dog nipped the child. It didn’t break the skin, Mehrnia said.
Two days later in Breckenridge, a family of five with two girls was vying for the dog’s attention, and one of the girls tried to hug the dog. The dog bit her so fast that no one had time to react, Mehrnia said.
The District Attorney’s office insisted that because of the nip two days prior, the owner should have known the dog had a tendency to bite children. The owner was charged with four felonies, including first and second degree assault, crime of violence, and a couple misdemeanors. He faced a mandatory sentence of more than 10 years in prison.
An animal control investigation determined the dog’s action was provoked, Mehrnia said, adding that the DA’s office withheld that report until after the preliminary hearing.
“Just between those three charges he was looking at a mandatory minimum of more than 10 years in prison,” Mehrnia said. “That’s insane!” she said.
District Court Judge Judge Edward Casias dismissed the assault charges, saying those charges are reserved for crimes of violence and homicides, Mehrnia said.
“We need restorative justice, not throwing the book at them like this. Actions like this are forcing defendants to give up their constitutional right to a fair trial,” Mehrnia said.
Mehrnia said prosecutors should have discretion over their case files. If something should be pleaded to a lesser charge, prosecutors should have that option. Right now they don’t, Mehrnia said.
“It becomes a numbers game. This is people’s lives, not a numbers game,” Mehrnia said. “It’s not about self gain or numbers, it’s about people’s lives.”
Among Mehrnia’s clients is a military veteran who served several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He brought back PTSD and drug problems and found himself on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. She had to send him back to his hometown, where he turned himself in to a veterans hospital.
“We didn’t have the resources here to help him,” Mehrnia said. “Right now, about our only option is punishment.”
“Because they’re trying to prosecute every case to the fullest extent of the law, when big cases come along, they’re spread too thin,” Mehrnia said. “Real crime should be prosecuted, but this waste of resources is devastating.”
Escaping war, seeking peace and education
Mehrnia was born in Iran and moved to the U.S. in 1994 with her family. Not long after, her dad went back to Iran to sell his business and disappeared.
Her mom is “pretty amazing.” Many immigrants move to this country and go to their ethnic groups so they’d have family and support, Mehrnia said. Her mom didn’t want that, so they moved Eugene, Oregon.
Her mom had never worked outside their home, but took a night shift job in a factory, so she could be with Sanam and her brother during the day.
Eventually, they moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and she attended Arizona State University for college and law school, where she cut her teeth in the Arizona federal public defender’s office.
The first time she lost a case, she sat in the judge’s chambers and cried. The judge told her not to take it so hard or she’d burn herself out.
“I told him that the moment I stopped caring is the moment I stop practicing law,” Mehrnia said. “You have to have a heart to do this job right.”
That heart belongs to her and her family, not a political party, she said.
“I’m so happy I’m doing this as an independent. I may not have the backing of a political party, but once you’re in that position, your job is to protect and aid the community, not to do what a party line is going to tell you to do. To have that independence and be free of that encumbrance is going to liberating,” Mehrnia said.
She’ll carry a caseload, she said.
“I love being in a courtroom. It’s what I do,” she said.
She’ll have an open door policy.
“If someone has a problem, I want to know about it,” Mehrnia said.
Brown found himself in the crosshairs of some Front Range media over vacation days. He says he takes two to three vacation days each month, and works 50-60 hour weeks.
Mehrnia says she’ll take the same amount of vacation her staff does.
“I’m going to answer to the community. You are in a position of public trust, and when you go for this position and job, you know you’re on call 24/7. Yes, we all need vacations; it’s good for mental health. But we also need accountability. The lack of accountability was appalling. I will answer to the community. If I mess up, if I fall, I’ll answer for that,” Mehrnia said.
“I know it’s hard, long nights, being on call, but you take that responsibility the moment you choose to run,” Mehrnia said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.