New Aspen D.A. sees reduced caseload
ASPEN – Four and a half months after unseating Colleen Truden in a recall election, District Attorney Martin Beeson said the number of criminal cases his office is filing has fallen for strategic reasons.In a meeting with the Pitkin and Garfield county commissioners, Beeson said the caseload in the three-county area is dropping compared with 2005, even though the population of the 9th Judicial District is rising.”The caseload is getting manageable,” he said. “We haven’t reached the goal yet, but we’re making progress.”Beeson stressed numerous times during a 30-minute conversation with the commissioners that he wasn’t trying to criticize Truden. “I want to put the past where it belongs – in the past,” Beeson said. “It’s history. We’re moving forward.”But indirect comparisons were unavoidable when he explained workload issues.Beeson labeled his office as extremely effective at handling its “gatekeeper” role. His staff carefully considers if a crime rises to the level of a felony. Beeson said his staff works carefully with law enforcement agencies in the district to assess if there is enough evidence to earn a conviction. The standard for arrest isn’t necessarily as high as the standard for conviction.”We’re not filing everything that comes down the pike,” Beeson said. “We will not take a case through the system if we don’t really believe in it.”New guardBeeson was a felony prosecutor on Truden’s staff but was one of 11 employees who resigned or were fired during her 11 months on the job. Truden took office in January 2005 after an uncontested election in November. Critics immediately assailed her for an autocratic management style and approach to prosecuting crimes. One former staffer accused her of offering plea deals only to clients of defense attorneys who hadn’t publicly criticized her.Voters decided by a 4-to-1 margin on Dec. 13 to recall Truden from office. They elected Beeson to take her place. He said he is fully staffed with 11 prosecutors working cases in Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.When he took office in January, Beeson said one of his goals was to reduce criminal filings. He claimed Truden had routinely “overcharged” defendants.After their meeting with the commissioners, Beeson and Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney declined to describe how their approach differs from Truden’s. They said they don’t want to be perceived as being confrontational with Truden.Cheney told the commissioners that the district attorney’s office would supply them with any criminal statistics they want – filings, convictions and otherwise – but he said they don’t consider the information valuable for comparisons with past administrations.”What we would not want to do is allow the numbers to drive what we perceive to be justice,” Cheney said.Beeson agreed that the goal of his office isn’t simply to ring up convictions. When there is a reasonable expectation of a conviction in court, it will be pursued, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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