Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson appears to be eligible to run for re-election, based on an opinion from the Colorado Attorney General’s office, but his candidacy could end up in the courts.
Beeson’s eligibility has been put into question because of term limits. Amendment 17 to the Colorado Constitution allows only two four-year terms for nonjudicial elected officials such as district attorneys.
The prosecutor first took office in late 2005 after a recall election in which voters deposed former District Attorney Colleen Truden and elected Beeson. He was re-elected in 2008 after running unopposed for the job. He served just over three years after first being elected and is currently serving a full four-year term.
Beeson said he believes he is eligible based on an opinion issued by then-Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar in 2000 about limits on those who have served partial terms, which states that “the term limitations of Amendment 17 apply only to full terms of office.”
Richard Coolidge, a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, said it’s up to the political party in which the candidate is represented to certify Beeson’s place on the ballot. He said his office is currently waiting for Beeson’s party designation and candidate acceptance for the primary ballot. Beeson is a Republican.
Once he is certified, opponents have five days to challenge his place on the ballot in Denver district court.
Tom Silverman, a defense attorney in Glenwood Springs who is a former deputy DA, municipal judge and prosecutor, has considered challenging Beeson’s eligibility but has made no decisions. He added that he expects it will be challenged in court by someone.
Silverman argues that there is no legal precedent regarding the attorney general’s opinion.
“The attorney general opinion is not binding on any court,” Silverman wrote in an email. “It also was not written for this situation, it dealt with appointed DAs and has never been accepted by any court.”
Silverman added that as a conservative, Beeson would typically take a position that courts should strictly construe the law. The state constitution in this case says the top prosecutor is not eligible to hold the office, he said.
“Strict construction is not convenient so Beeson is going with ‘judicial legislation,’ or ‘legislating from the bench,’ hoping the court will say that the two-term limitation strictly stated is not what the constitutional amendment means. ... His first elected term of three years should not count because it wasn’t four years,” Silverman wrote. “That construction is nowhere in the amendment.”
Beeson said he obviously agrees with the attorney general’s position that the first, partial term he served doesn’t count against him.
“If such a determination has been made I am, of course, in agreement with it,” he wrote in an email. “I am not surprised as it reflects an accurate reading and application of the law.”
Silverman said Beeson could have avoided the controversy and a likely legal challenge to his candidacy by asking voters to overturn term limits for district attorneys.
“This issue will not end if Beeson is elected as the unconstitutionally elected DA,” Silverman said in the email. “All of his acts will be subject to question until the courts decide. ... The [attorney general] opinion doesn’t decide anything; this will continue to be a potential issue until the Colorado Supreme Court makes its determination.”