For Arnold Mordkin, the decision by District Attorney-elect Sherry Caloia to not retain him as chief deputy district attorney in Aspen means he will return to life as a criminal defense attorney — a job he has held for the bulk of his 50-year legal career.
Deputy district attorney Richard Nedlin, who handles misdemeanor cases and also was not retained, will be making the same foray, but for him it will be his first time stepping into a courtroom as a defense lawyer.
In their final days as prosecutors, Nedlin and Mordkin reflected on what they have learned since they started in their jobs in 2008, the cases of which they are most proud and how going after alleged criminals will now help them defend future clients.
Mordkin said his time as a prosecutor handling felonies will “absolutely” make him a better defense lawyer.
“I think you have a better understanding of the process that evolves in the prosecution of a case,” said Mordkin, 75, whose career also has included a stint as a judge in northern Orange County in California. “That can be a very useful tool to someone on the defense side.”
He said a deputy of outgoing District Attorney Martin Beeson contacted him for the job in 2008 because Mordkin knows many people on both sides of the courtroom. Mordkin said he found the job of a prosecutor stimulating.
“There’s certainly less down time as a prosecutor than there is as a defense lawyer,” he said, adding that he won’t miss being “on call, so to speak, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Law enforcement officers call me at all hours of the day.”
Both he and Nedlin said they feel they have established a good working relationship with the Aspen Police Department and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
For Nedlin, 42, that relationship didn’t emerge until six months to a year of his taking the position, which was his first job in the legal world after he passed the bar in New York.
He said many in the law enforcement community questioned whether he was suitable for the job because they had seen his ex-wife’s allegations against him when they were divorcing. All of the claims made by Elinor Dvir were false, he said.
In 2010, Dvir was acquitted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder; police had said she was caught on tape offering to pay a hit man to kill Nedlin as the couple fought over child custody.
Caloia, a longtime defense attorney, represented Dvir, and in the November election she narrowly beat Beeson in the district attorney’s race.
“If [Caloia] had said, ‘I like you, I think you do a good job and I want to keep you,’ I would not have worked for her,” Nedlin said. “The things she said about me in pleadings and filings in my domestic-relations case ... and also the fact that she obviously believes everything that my ex told her.”
The private legal saga has prepped him well for criminal defense work, he said, especially in family law issues.
“I gained a lot of personal experience, and I believe from that I know what somebody goes through when you start a divorce, especially when there is property involved, money involved and, most importantly, when there are children involved,” said Nedlin, who is starting a private practice with an office at the Airport Business Center. “I can really be empathetic to the situation. I think it’s probably one of the most emotional things that somebody can go through in their lives.”
Mordkin will practice law from Snowmass Village, where he lives, and said he will use a virtual office.
Standing out among the many cases he prosecuted are getting convictions for:
• Emanuel Gonzalez-Loujun, who was charged with raping a woman at the Centennial housing complex in Aspen (his first trial ended in a hung jury, and he later pleaded guilty to a reduced charged and was sentenced to 14 years in prison);
• Andrian Arapu, a Moldovian man who had more than a kilo of cocaine in his Main Street apartment when immigration and Aspen officers contacted him (he was sentenced to five years in state prison and spent 510 days in the county jail as his case went to the state supreme court, which ruled in Mordkin’s favor);
• The cocaine bust at what was then called Bentley’s (a sweep of the restaurant netted 60 grams of cocaine, and Raul Perez Cortes, a cook, was eventually sentenced to two years in prison. Another 38 grams of the drug were found at the home of a second suspect, Marco Antonio Ruiz Leal, who fled the area before he could be arrested).
“They were serving hamburgers and cocaine,” Mordkin said with a smile.
Nedlin said his biggest case was likely that of Steven Roger in 2010. Roger, who was a yoga instructor in Aspen, was convicted of two misdemeanor counts of unlawful sexual contact for groping his students.
“I think that was a real big case for a lot of reasons,” he said. “You had someone who was in the community for a very long time, and who was very well-respected and well-known. And you had ... 15 or 20 victims. And they all told the same story.”
Nedlin called another yoga instructor to testify as an expert witness to demonstrate how teachers “adjust” students during a class. The appeal by Roger, who must register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life if his conviction is upheld, remains pending.
While he called it “the best job I’ve ever had,” Nedlin said it will be nice being on the other side and having all of the burden of proof “on the prosecution.”
Andrea Bryan, who works as a prosecutor in Glenwood Springs for the 9th Judicial District, will take over for Mordkin on Tuesday, when Caloia is sworn in. A replacement for Nedlin hasn’t been announced. Both prosecutors will give up their posts at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.