Longtime Glenwood attorney says she disagrees with incumbent’s philosophy
Saying she disagrees with the philosophy of the 9th Judicial District prosecutor’s office, a longtime Glenwood Springs lawyer is challenging the re-election bid of District Attorney Martin Beeson.
Sherry Caloia, who has practiced law for 30 years and been a Glenwood resident since 1988, said Tuesday that it was a difficult decision to enter the race.
But Beeson’s statements about the role of defense attorneys, his appeal of a judge’s sanctioning of the Aspen DA’s office and certain prosecutions she finds questionable all led to her decision to enter the race, she said.
The 9th Judicial District encompasses Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
Ironically, the man she is challenging might not be the top prosecutor had it not been for efforts by Caloia and others to recall the previous district attorney, Colleen Truden, in 2005.
Caloia, 56, organized the petition drive that led to the first recall in Colorado history of a district attorney. Several deputy district attorneys, including Beeson, resigned rather than continue working with Truden. Among the criticisms of Truden were allegations of financial and ethical improprieties.
But Caloia, a defense attorney who also serves as municipal prosecutor for the towns of Basalt and Carbondale, said her efforts then were strictly on the petition effort.
“I didn’t help him get elected,” she said of Beeson, a Republican. “I think he’s a good man, and I respect him ... but I didn’t work on Martin’s campaign.”
Caloia, a longtime Democrat, said the political party in Garfield County lobbied her “very heavily” to throw her hat in the ring. But the issues are not strictly political, she said.
In August, Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court sanctioned the Aspen DA’s office for infractions, in five cases over four years, concerning pretrial evidence that she said was not provided to the defense in a timely manner. The sanctions disallowed key evidence in a felony aggravated motor vehicle case, which led to its dismissal by the prosecution.
Beeson appealed the sanctions to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which has yet to rule. He has called Nichols’ ruling unfair in that the cases the judge cited represent a tiny percentage of the overall prosecutions that the Aspen office has handled correctly.
“I am baffled by the court’s actions and the words that have come down from the bench,” Beeson told the Daily News in September. “We believe the judge is completely wrong.”
Remarks like that helped prompt Caloia to run, she said.
“The statements in the newspaper were more destructive than constructive for the relationship between prosecutors and the judge,” Caloia said. “Because you’re going to be before [Nichols] at some point, and she has the final say.”
Asked if other attorneys had spoken to her about a perception that Beeson’s office is more inflexible in negotiations with defense attorneys than past district attorneys, Caloia said she has “seen it myself.”
“I’ve seen things get charged and prosecuted that should be dismissed early on,” she said. “I think that’s where having experience in different types of law can help.”
Caloia said her experience as a prosecutor in Adams County in the 1980s, and currently for Carbondale and Basalt, makes her more experienced than Beeson. She said she has also handled cases ranging from criminal and civil matters, child abuse, and water and real estate law. The incumbent did not return a message seeking comment.
“I think it’s a shame to have a prosecutor who only has been a prosecutor,” Caloia said. Practicing in other areas of law “opens your eyes and your mind as to what the reality is.”
One case Caloia cited involved a woman being prosecuted for domestic violence because she poured a cup of coffee on her ex-husband’s car. Another concerned a man charged with false imprisonment because he hid his ex-wife’s car keys to prevent her from driving while intoxicated, Caloia said.
And then there were Beeson’s comments in 2010 about defense attorneys in general.
“Public defenders are not defenders of the public,” he told the Daily News. “They are not serving the public good. They are taxpayer-funded attorneys for criminals.”
Beeson stood by his remarks, which were condemned by, among others, Douglas Wilson, the head of Colorado’s State Public Defender Office. Wilson and others questioned whether Beeson believes in the constitutional tenants of “the presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Caloia said fairness is the most important aspect to have in the judicial system and that treating criminal defense attorneys, who she said play a critical role in the system, with civility and respect is paramount.
She registered with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office on Thursday and is now trying to hire a campaign manager and treasurer.
“I’m not looking forward to it,” she said of the race. “I’m not a politician.”