What is a DA? What Does a DA do?
OK, whole buncha stuff here. First, DA is shorthand for District Attorney. The attorney part is easy enough, but what about the district part? Well, that’s easy enough too, once you’ve got your legal headlights on.A district is a territorial area into which an entire state or country, county, municipality or other political subdivision is divided for judicial, political, electoral, or administrative purposes. In the context of a district attorney, the “district” of concern is, more properly, a judicial district. A judicial district is one of “circuits” or “precincts” into which a state is commonly divided for judicial purposes – a court of general jurisdiction usually being provided in each of such districts – and the boundaries of the district marking the territorial limits of its authority. Commonly, the district may include two or more counties, having separate and independent county courts which are presided over by the same judge.In the state of Colorado, there are twenty two judicial districts. Eagle County is in the 5th Judicial District which is comprised of Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit Counties. Each district is presided over by a chief judge – in the 5th, Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle presides as chief judge and is served by a district attorney. The current district attorney for the 5th Judicial District is Mark Hurlbert. Owing to the current Kobe Bryant brouhaha, Judge Ruckriegle and DA Hurlbert have become household names. District attorneys are politically – affiliated offices where, most times, the candidates run as either a Democrat or a Republican and must stand for re-election if they wish to continue after the expiration of their term.As a short aside, it is essential to understand the basic schism in the law between civil matters on the one hand, and criminal matters, on the other. Civil law is the law established by society concerned with private rights and remedies. Criminal or penal law is that body of law dealing with crimes. In general, the term relates to statues that define criminal offenses and specify corresponding fines and punishment. Penal law may also be thought of as statues imposing penalty, fine or punishment for certain offenses of a public nature, or wrongs committed against the state. A statute is an act of the legislature declaring, commanding or prohibiting something. They are particular laws enacted and established by the will of the legislative branch of the government. The word is used to designate legislatively created laws in contradistinction to court-decided law which is largely decided on a case-by-case basis. Statutes lay out, in advance, what acts may be permitted or prohibited within the society in which they exist.Civil law affords the person claiming to be wronged a remedy or right to recover something of value from the person causing the harm, usually – but not always – money. Unlike civil law which is largely remedial in nature, criminal laws exact a penalty against the wrongdoer and that penalty is enforced by the people. Usually, the penalty involves incarceration of the wrong-doer or the payment of a fine, or both.Actions in civil law are brought by one or more persons or entities (such as a corporation) against other persons or entities. Civil actions may sometimes be brought against or by the government. Criminal actions, however, are brought exclusively by the people against the alleged perpetrator of a crime or offense. They are brought in the name of society at large, expressing the determination by that society through its elected representatives who enact the laws as to what is right and what is wrong, what will be tolerated in the society and what will not.Most times, civil actions are brought by privately hired attorneys who represent the interests of the plaintiff (the person or entity who brings the lawsuit) and the defendant ( the person or entity who defends the lawsuit), respectively.Criminal actions are brought by the people against the defendant (in this instance, the criminally accused) and are prosecuted by a government lawyer. Criminal actions are prosecuted by the office of the District Attorney who is the prosecuting officer in the judicial district in which trial is brought.Okay, in an admittedly long – winded way then, a DA is a the chief government attorney within a judicial district who prosecutes crimes on behalf of the people and holds his/her office as the fruits of a partisan election. Additionally, the DA oversees and administers the deputy district attorneys and other personnel who support the office of the district attorney.Why should you care? Well, among other reasons, the DA sets the tone for prosecution within the judicial district. Ultimately, it is up to him or her to determine whether charges should or should not be brought in a particular case and whether an alleged crime should be brought for trial. Further, it is the DA who determines what specific charges should be brought. The DA, in administering the office ultimately bears the responsibility too for esprit de corp, efficiency and retention of qualified deputies. And, in the last analysis, you should care if for no better reason than it is taxpayer money which supports the office.To add a maraschino to the legal sundae, this is an election year and Republican Mark Hurlbert faces a challenge from Democrat Bruce Brown. It’s your judiciary, people, your tax dollars, your county, state and nation. It would be wise to pay attention. Otherwise, no griping when the votes are tallied…Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley.He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law.Mr. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Mr. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be reached at 926-4461 or at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org