Mark Hurlbert – candidate for Fifth Judicial District Attorney
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, who was appointed to his post in 2002, faces a challenge from Clear Creek defense attorney Bruce Brown to be the top prosecutor in the Fifth Judicial District, which covers Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties. Hurlbert, 35, a Republican from Breckenridge, had been a prosecutor in the Fifth Judicial Districts Summit County bureau when he took over the District Attorneys Office. He recently prosecuted NBA star Kobe Bryant in a sexual assault case that was dropped Sept. 1
Q: Violent crimes are in the rise in the district, what would you do to curb this problem?Hurlbert: Prevention starts with effective prosecution coupled with programs such as juvenile diversion. The first step in effective prosecution to stem the rise of violent crimes is to hire experienced prosecutors who know how to prosecute these serious crimes and send the offenders to prison. That has been a priority for me over the past two years and has been a success for this office. When I became district attorney, the deputy district attorney with the most experience had four years and had never prosecuted a homicide case. Now, we have four of the 10 attorneys with over five years of experience. One deputy district attorney is recognized around the state as an expert in domestic violence prosecutions and another has eight years in Mesa County, three of that as a sexual assault deputy district attorney. Half of the attorney staff can try a serious sexual assault or homicide.The second step is to work with law enforcement to bring thorough investigations of violent crimes to the District Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office not only has a great relationship with law enforcement, but we have participated in and will continue to participate in training law enforcement. Finally, the District Attorney’s Office has a juvenile diversion program that gets juvenile offenders to admit their crimes and have consequences quickly, without getting into the juvenile justice system. This prevents juvenile offenders from becoming adult offenders.Q: What were the positives and negatives of the Kobe Bryant case?Hurlbert: Although, this is a rather unfair question as my opponent has not seen any of the police reports, never even came to one hearing and is relying on Front Range newspaper reports, the people of Eagle County deserve a fair and unbiased view of the Bryant case from the chief prosecutor in the district. On the plus side, we showed the people of the 5th Judicial District that they have a District Attorney’s Office that will fight for them if they are hurt. The people of the 5th also know that they have a District Attorney’s Office that will not allow one type of justice for the rich and famous and another for the rest of us. Another plus is the District Attorney’s Office now has two prosecutors that have prosecuted at the highest level in the country. This is an experience that cannot be discounted and provides an incredibly high level of prosecution in this small district. On the minus side, we learned that our little office cannot prosecute such a huge case without help from the rest of the state. The defense filed over 700 motions, responses and replies. Given our small staff of 10 attorneys, it would have been impossible to keep up with such a huge case, even though we had the experience at that time. If we were to use just the attorneys in the office, justice would have ground to a halt in the other cases. It is a simple matter of numbers. A minus was that some Front Range defense attorneys were allowed to destroy an Eagle County woman who was hurt. Although my office fought for her, seeing a rape victim’s sexual history paraded on national television certainly has resulted in other rape victims not reporting. This is an unfortunate, but temporary situation as my office will have a deputy district attorney that will exclusively prosecute sexual assault cases and reach out to victims to know they have a District Attorney’s Office that will fight for them. Another minus is that almost 700 citizens of Eagle County showed for jury duty on a case that was ultimately dismissed. That will not happen again as long as I am the district attorney.Q: What cases would you give priority to?Mark Hurlbert: The District Attorney’s Office has and will continue to give violent crimes a priority. Over the past few years the district has seen a rise in violent crimes and we have had great success in prosecution of these crimes. From the child abuse case of People vs. Paxon to the homicide case of People vs. Stockdale, this office has successfully prosecuted these violent crimes and protected this community. We will continue to make successful prosecution of violent crimes a priority.Q: What crimes would you give a lower priority?Hurlbert: Under state statutes, I have an ethical and legal obligation to prosecute any crimes that I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. There are no minor crimes to those who are hurt. Although, my opponent has said that he will not prosecute animal control crimes or drug crimes, to say that we will not prosecute some crimes as a matter of policy is irresponsible and will never be done in a District Attorney’s Office led by me.Q: How do you plan to prioritize the budget?Hurlbert: The 2005 budget for the District Attorney’s Office is $2.28 million. Approximately $2 million is used for salaries and benefits. The obvious priority is salaries. In the two years that I have been the District Attorney, I have raised salaries 10 percent. I will continue to place a priority on salaries. Outside of salaries, a priority is to work within the budget and with grants to update technology and increase training for all staff. I have worked on four budgets and managed two. Every budget I have managed has come in under budget. I take very seriously that I am managing the people’s money. I also have been very aggressive in winning state and local grant money. This takes the pressure off the taxpayers and lowers the contributions made by the counties. Grant money also gives this office more flexibility and allows for the purchase of equipment that frees up other moneys for salaries and benefits. I have also been very aggressive in gaining reimbursement for costs of prosecution. The state gave the District Attorney’s Office a reimbursement of over $80,000 in costs associated with prosecution of cases. This also allows for some freedom in the budget. Q: In the past years there has been a high turnover of prosecutors in the district. What would you do to keep good prosecutors?Hurlbert: Although much has been made of the turnover in the District Attorney’s Office, the rate of turnover since I took office is not any higher than the rate of turnover in the past 10 years and is not any different than any other sector of our resort communities. Also, the assumption is that all the attorneys that have left were good prosecutors. Although we lost some good prosecutors in the past two years, there were also some that were not doing their job of protecting the community and had to be let go. Since May 2003, there has been a stabilization of the attorney staff in the District Attorney’s Office. We now have 10 committed and experienced D.A.s in the office. I have done that by first raising salaries by 10 percent over the past two years. Second, I have increased and formalized the training. We have trainings that take place out of state, instate and, for the first time, in office. This allows the deputy district attorneys to feel more confident in their jobs. Third, we are one of only three District Attorney’s Offices to have the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA. This is a pension plan that is responsible for keeping state employees in their jobs longer. Finally, I have revamped the hiring procedures to look for employees that will become a part of the community and therefore stay longer. This can only be accomplished by a D.A. who has been a prosecutor for a long time and has been a part of the community.In the future, we are going to have a sexual assault deputy district attorney. This will take the pressures off the other district court deputy district attorneys and provide for a lesser caseload. Given that the 5th has one of the highest caseloads per deputy district attorney in the state, this will be a welcome change. As always, I will work on higher salaries for all staff, not just attorney staff.
by Veronica WhitneyVail Daily Staff WriterBRECKENRIDGE – It’s Sunday afternoon and District Attorney Mark Hurlbert is resting at home after completing a 170-mile relay race from Idaho Springs to Glenwood Springs the previous day. Hurlbert sticks to the law even when putting a running team together. Running on his team were local police officers and Eagle County District Judge Tom Moorhead, an avid runner as well.”Running is a great release,” said Hurlbert, who runs four times a week and does two half marathons a year. “It helped me especially during the (Kobe) Bryant case.” The case against the NBA star was dismissed on Sept. 1. But the 14-months case, which sparked an international media frenzy, was a challenge for Hurlbert, 35, who is running for re-election to the 5th Judicial District seat in November. He faces a challenge from Clear Creek county defense attorney Bruce Brown.
First, Hurlbert, a Republican, took office after former District Attorney Mike Goodbee left in December 2002 to work for the state attorney general. Then, came the Bryant case with its 700 motions filed by the defense and finally the alleged victim’s decision no to testify against Bryant.”I love challenges,” said Hurlbert, who has been a prosecutor in the 5th Judicial District for 10 years. Though Hurlbert may have already faced some of the biggest challenges in his life as a prosecutor, he says there’s still plenty of other cases to bring to court in the 5th Judicial District.”We ended up doing a lot while still spending 60 hours a week doing the Kobe stuff,” he said. “Running the Kobe Bryant case was a huge challenge. That experience itself has made me a better prosecutor. This case made me a lot stronger.”We prosecuted at the highest level in the country for a year,” he added. “Knowing how to counter some 700 motions made me a better prosecutor.”When he made the decision to prosecute Bryant, Hurlbert said, he did it for an Eagle County resident who he thought had been hurt.”I didn’t do this for my career,” Hurlbert said. “After the honeymoon period, I knew I was going to get beat up and vilified by the media in the same way as it happened to the O.J. (Simpson) and the Tyson prosecutors.”Seeking justiceHurlbert never had second thoughts about being a prosecutor, he said.”I realized I wanted to be a prosecutor when I interned in law school with the Summit (District Attorney’s) office,” he said. “This job is about helping people. If you help one person, you help the world. I love being a prosecutor, I love doing justice and that can be getting a conviction or a dismissal in a case.” A dismissal in the Bryant case, however, wasn’t what he expected.”After doing all this work, it ultimately came to (the alleged victim’s) decision,” he said. “We fought a hard fight. We had enough physical evidence to prove the case.”After he got the call from the alleged victim saying she wanted to drop the case, Hurlbert said, he felt “like a kick in the stomach.””I understood it, but we had done all this work and prepared. We were ready to go. We could prove this case beyond reasonable doubt,” he said. “But I understood her, she had finally had enough after 14 months of being tracked down by the tabloids. I probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as she did.”Lessons learnedThe outcome of the Bryant case had less to do with money – Bryant reportedly spent $12 million in his defense – than with the media, Hurlbert said.”The pressures on the victim wouldn’t have been the same had this not been a high- profile media case,” Hurlbert said. “If this hadn’t been a high-profile media case, we would have tried it in six months with no problems.”Bryant’s wealth and celebrity played no role in the prosecution, Hurlbert said.”I want the people in the 5th Judicial District to know there isn’t a difference between justice for the poor and for the rich,” he added. “This D.A.’s office will fight till the very end no matter who it is.” And in spite of some shortcomings, Hurlbert is proud of how he and his prosecutors handled the Bryant case.”We did a very good job with the alleged victim’s case. We did a good job in getting her through 14 months,” he said. “We also did well in managing the taxpayer’s money and we managed to get renowned experts who believed in our case.”Where he could have done better, Hurlbert said, was in talking more with the alleged victim after she told him she was going to file a civil lawsuit just weeks before she decided not to go forward with the case.”I talked to her briefly. I should have sat down with her face to face and had a heart-to-heart talk to see if this was something that she really wanted to do,” he said. “The outcome might have been the same, but it might have prevented 600 residents of Eagle County from showing up for jury duty.”Future of the officeAfter dealing with the Bryant case, Hurlbert learned that sexual assault prosecutions have become far more complicated, as dozens of motions are now filed, he said. If he stays in office, Hurlbert said, he will assign one deputy district attorney to deal specifically with sexual assault cases.Another project he has is to implement a state attorney general program that would allow schools, police agencies and district attorneys offices to talk more freely to each other.”That would hopefully prevent another Columbine,” Hurlbert said. “I would also like to hold regular public meeting in each county in the district to get citizens’ feedback.”If he isn’t elected, Hurlbert said he will probably look for a job as a prosecutor job elsewhere.”I couldn’t go out and become a defense attorney. I’m a prosecutor and a public servant first,” he said. “To abandon the people in the 5th Judicial District would be extremely hard. It would really tear me up because I grew up in the mountains.”Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, who helped Hurlbert with the Bryant prosecution case, said it would be a bad idea for voters to measure Hurlbert by just that case.”Mark did the very best under very difficult circumstances,” Ritter said. “It was a very difficult case. It would have been difficult for my office.”Mark learned a lot and matured during the process,” he added. “He is a career prosecutor, he knows his business.”Staff writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or email@example.com. Vail Colorado