Vail DA Hurlbert wants to bring prosecutor’s perspective to Senate
Summit County correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Fifth District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, a Republican, aims to win a seat from the Democrats and bring a prosecutor’s perspective to the Colorado Senate.
Known for prosecuting the highly-publicized sexual assault case of NBA star Kobe Bryant in Eagle County not long after he was appointed, Hurlbert maintained his seat and the respect of colleagues.
“I’m not going to say mistakes weren’t made,” he said of the Bryant case, which was dropped after the alleged victim refused to testify, adding that his office “did a good job” while treading “ground we’d never dealt with before.”
Hurlbert, 41, aims to take the Senate District 16 seat that Dan Gibbs is vacating as he pursues a Summit County Commissioner seat.
Edwards attorney Brett Heckman, who was involved with Bryant’s defense, said Hurlbert has “supplied great leadership” to the district and employed an “excellent staff.”
Reflecting on trial litigation with Hurlbert, Heckman said:
“It’s adversarial, as it always is with defense attorneys and prosecutors. But he’s always been professional and he’s always been fair – and when a prosecutorial feel was required, I think he took that route, and when less aggressiveness was required, he took the appropriate route.”
Shaping drug laws, medical marijuana regulations
Hurlbert’s goals for the senate include a role in the major revamping criminal law – particularly regarding drugs and drunken driving – for effective alternatives to incarceration, as is being researched by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice the state Legislature created a few years ago.
Hurlbert’s been working for about a year to get a drug court in Summit County. Such courts aim to handle substance-abusing offenders through supervision, drug testing and treatment services along with penalties and incentives – rather than simply jail time.
“We are hoping to roll it out pretty soon,” Hurlbert said.
He said he’s seen people with one cocaine possession charge continue to violate “deeper into the system.”
“It’s finding the most effective model for each individual,” he said, adding that some may need in-patient care, others counseling while some people may need incarceration.
But he doesn’t feel Colorado is wasting too many resources on locking up drug offenders.
“There’s a myth that there are all these drug offenders in prison. It is violent criminals that are in prison,” he said, pointing out several violent criminals were released last fall under the state’s early release initiative.
Regarding legislation of medical marijuana, Hurlbert said the message from voters on ballot issues is clear.
“In 2000, the people of the state said, ‘We want people who are seriously ill to have marijuana,'” he said. “Also, in 2006, they said, ‘We don’t want marijuana legalized.'”
He said the existing situation is “a back door to legalization,” with doctors forbidden from writing prescriptions who are writing referrals for medical marijuana use.
Part of “tightening that up” would involve follow-up doctor visits similar to what occurs with prescription medications so doctors can determine whether the drug is working to help the patient.
Hurlbert also favors legislation intended that would quash dispensaries by limiting caregivers to five patients each.
“I don’t think people were looking for the Walmart. They were looking for mom and pop organizations,” he said of the vote in 2000.
Economics, environment and small government
Hurlbert calls himself a “green Republican;” having grown up hiking and camping in Summit County, he’s climbed all of Colorado’s Fourteeners. He said he wants to protect land, water and air without sacrificing jobs. He also supports renewable-energy development.
He said he believes in small government and has kept his office under budget all seven years – except when he had to ask for extra finances to prosecute the Bryant case, which occurred through 2003 and 2004.
With 11 attorneys and a staff of about 35, Hurlbert’s office handles about 12,000 cases per year. The Fifth District includes Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties.
Hurlbert tried unsuccessfully last year to get commissioners of all four counties to approve a ballot issue asking voters to consider a term extension to the district attorney’s office. While district attorneys elsewhere in the state were successful, the Lake County Commissioners stopped Hurlbert’s effort by denying his request.
Colorado is the only state to hold its DAs to two, four-year terms.
Vail attorney Rohn Robbins, who represented media including the Vail Daily during the Bryant case, said he supports Hurlbert’s Senate campaign despite being a lifelong Democrat.
“I’ve always been very impressed with Mark’s integrity. I think he’s trying to do the right thing,” Robbins said. “He’s a very middle-of-the-road Republican.”
Robbins has a radio show in the Vail Valley and said Hurlbert’s been on it a few times. He said any Democrat who steps up to the District 16 race would have to be “spectacular” to win his support from Hurlbert.
Summit County Democrats co-chair Lucinda Burns said that while no Democrats have yet announced candidacy for the seat, announcements are expected in the next week or two.
One Republican, Evergreen businessman Tim Leonard, has announced his candidacy for the seat. More information on Leonard is available at http://timleonardforstatesenate.com.
Thourgh many attorneys serve in the Colorado Senate, none of them are former prosecutors. Governor Bill Ritter and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, both Democrats, formerly served as Denver district attorney and Colorado attorney general, respectively.
Hurlbert said his campaign won’t get in the way of his service as DA.
“My first priority is the people and public safety of this district,” he said, adding that in 2004 he ran for re-election while prosecuting the Bryant case among other tasks through his office.
Hurlbert lives in Breckenridge with his wife, Cathy, and their two children.
Senate District 16 includes Summit, Boulder, Clear Creek, Jefferson and Grand counties.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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