The Denver Post
Carol Chambers has overstepped again — this time by illegally funding her prosecution of a high-profile murder case, a judge has ruled.
"A district attorney's obligation is greater than obtaining convictions," reads an order Tuesday by District Judge Stanley Brinkley.
"A conviction, if it is to be obtained, must be accomplished by obedience to the law. Otherwise, the prosecution is no different than those the prosecutor is required to prosecute."
The ruling not only slams Chambers for playing dirty in The People vs. Alejandro Perez, it also kicks her and her entire staff off the case and calls for a special prosecutor.
The latest controversy involving the 18th Judicial District's prosecutor stems from the 2004 stabbing death of Jeffrey Heird, a white supremacist who was labeled as a rat by fellow inmates at the Limon Correctional Facility. The prison is in Chambers' four-county district.
Perez, then an inmate there, is facing a first-degree-murder charge and has yet to be tried.
His co-defendant, inmate David Bueno, has been convicted of Heird's murder but is asking for a new trial now that lawyers claim Chambers hid key evidence in the killing.
Chambers' office had been kicked off Perez's case earlier after the revelation that her special deputy district attorney had represented Perez — whom he effectively was trying to kill by seeking the death penalty — in a prior job as a defense lawyer. The state
Supreme Court reversed that decision and reinstated the district attorney's staff. At issue this time is Chambers' spending.
In prosecuting Perez and Bueno, she billed the Department of Corrections for all expenses and reimbursed her own office for at least $91,648 in staffing and office costs in 2007 that should have been reimbursed to Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, where by law she gets her funding. One of the extra paralegals she assigned to the case was "a unique employee paid in a unique way," she testified.
The judge has a different word for Chambers' concept of unique — illegal. He found that she broke state law by creating a new funding source and sidestepping counties' budget approval.
A pact he described as a "side deal" with DOC "increased the manpower available to her office, thereby increasing the likelihood of a conviction" against Perez and Bueno, Judge Brinkley ruled.
Chambers will appeal.
The presence of a prison is a "significant financial drain on any DA's office in the counties that have those facilities," she said.
"Should we use the tools we can to deter murders there?" she asked. Prosecuting prison killings has become so expensive that, she said, "I am not sure we can do much with these very serious cases anymore and that is a shame, especially for those we must force to be residents there."
She has a point.
Still, shouldn't Chambers have to play by the rules just like the people her office prosecutes for crimes involving far less than $91,648?
For now, the answer is yes, as Judge Brinkley expressed loud and clear:
"Citizens will see no reason to comply with the laws that keep all of us safe from anarchy if district attorneys are allowed to violate the law in obtaining convictions."
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Denver Post