Caloia cites philosophical change from her predecessor as case filings fall in district
The district attorney’s office in the 9th Judicial District has won informal approval for its 2014 budget from the three counties that comprise the 9th.
District Attorney Sherry Caloia presented her office’s nearly $3 million budget Tuesday to commissioners in Pitkin and Garfield counties. Neither county board had any issues with the numbers, nor did Rio Blanco County, she said.
The first funding request from Caloia, who took the office from Martin Beeson in a recall election in November, shaves roughly $212,000, or 6.6 percent, from the 2013 budget.
The counties’ contributions make up the vast majority of the office’s annual budget, with each jurisdiction providing funds based on its population. Pitkin County’s share for 2014 is projected at $559,119, a nearly 8 percent decrease over this year. The amount is about 21 percent of the overall budget.
Total filings in the district are on pace to be well below those in 2013, a change that Caloia attributed in part to her philosophy on whether to charge a person with a felony, a misdemeanor or not at all.
There were 524 felony cases filed in Garfield County in 2012, or about 44 a month. Through the first nine months of 2013, the time period for which records are so far available, Caloia’s office has filed 327 such cases, or 36 a month in Garfield County, according to figures provided by the DA’s office.
Compared to Garfield, Pitkin County court filings are headed in the opposite direction under Caloia so far in 2013.
In 2012, 80 felony cases were filed for an average of 6.6 per month; that number through September in 2013 is 7.4 a month. The number of misdemeanors filed so far in 2013, 199, is only two off the entire year for 2012.
Pitkin County commissioners George Newman and Steve Child both noted that Pitkin County makes up 21 percent of the district’s population but contributes only 14 percent of the total felony cases filed. Garfield County, meanwhile, makes up 70.5 percent of the population and 79 percent of the felonies.
Caloia said that may be because downvalley police agencies are more aggressive in pursuing cases and bring charges to her office more frequently.
“Someone once told me, the more cops you have, the more crime you have, which makes sense,” she said.
Asked in an interview about changes in case filings compared to Beeson’s philosophy, Caloia provided the example of someone charged with giving false information to police.
Law enforcement typically brings those cases to prosecutors as a felony.
“Very often we charge it out as a misdemeanor, and I don’t think Martin used to do that,” she said. “I just feel there are times to use a felony for that offense and times to use a misdemeanor.”
She said many cases are on the line between a felony and a misdemeanor, and a defendant’s lack of a criminal history will lead to the latter filing. Caloia said her office also scrutinizes domestic-violence cases to ensure that elements of the crime, such as fear, coercion and control, are met, instead of a case merely being a domestic dispute.
Domestic violence case filings in 2013, though, remain about on pace with last year in Garfield County.
One disturbing trend in Pitkin County is domestic-violence cases: The number so far in 2013, 40, already is quadruple the total cases in 2012.
Caloia told the Pitkin County commissioners that the reduced budget comes in part from her leaving a prosecutor position and a support staff job unfilled.
Her assistant district attorney, Scott Turner, also handles a docket, a change from Beeson’s operation in which a separate prosecutor took on those duties, she said.
Caloia’s budget request is expected to be formally approved in December, when the appropriations for the county’s 2014 budget are finalized.