ALAMOSA – Interim District Attorney Anne Kelly for the 12th Judicial District has big plans for the future. But with less than a month in office and just six weeks before ballots go out in the election, she must first prove to the voters of the valley that she’s the right person for the job.
It’s a big task, but she seems unphased.
“We’re moving ahead and putting things in place as if we’re going to win,” she said.
Kelly will be running as a Republican, an affiliation she says she’s had for most of her life, the product of being raised “in a conservative household with a father who often spoke about conservative values.”
She only switched to Unaffiliated when she took her previous position as senior deputy DA in in Boulder.
“I didn’t want being a registered Republican to distract people from the work I was doing,” she said, referencing Boulder’s Democratic stronghold. Knowing that, if appointed to the 12th JD she would be facing election in November, Kelly changed her voter registration back to Republican this summer.
Kelly’s approach to the office of district attorney seems to cross party lines. She doesn’t believe in criminalizing addiction and supports criminal justice reform and programs such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) and Restorative Justice because “they work.”
At the same time, she is a firm advocate for the “strong prosecution” of offenders, decrying “soundbites” and “bright lines of who will be prosecuted and how.” Instead, she emphasizes the need for a “prosecutor and leader” to look at each case individually.
“It’s the “obligation of a prosecutor to hold accountable those who cause harm to other people”, she said, adding how crucial it is to both the victims of crime and a community that “knows they’re being protected.”
Being a DA in the valley is a tough job with the existing crime rate disproportionate to its population. Kelly cites the 14th Judicial District, with a population size very similar to the San Luis Valley, as an example. Although affluence is a factor, the 12th district has three times more crime than the 14th.
“Across the state, the valley is viewed as a free pass,” she said. “Dealers know they won’t be prosecuted, so they’re using the valley.”
She also cites a disproportionately high number of burglaries in Conejos County where, she says, burglars wait for people to leave before burglarizing the property.
And she’s concerned that even the high numbers don’t reflect the true situation.
“We rely on cases being filed, and case numbers are going down when they should be going up,” Kelly said. “That tells me some crimes aren’t being reported.”
Against that backdrop, Kelly has taken on a district attorney’s office that has a backlog of hundreds of cases involving a significant number of serious felony crimes, including sexual assault and homicide cases that date back to 2019.
“The office has been in decline for years,” she said. “Alonzo Payne just drove it into the ground.”
Kelly plans to triage, focusing on major cases at risk of exceeding the statute of limitations. Current major cases in the valley are also a priority with prosecution handled by teams she will assemble from across the state. Drug cases will be a focus – “the valley has spoken about this” – and she will also be “going into Conejos County to address the burglaries.” And, of course, she will be prosecuting cases of domestic violence.
Numerous priorities all rely on having an adequate number of attorneys, a problem that previous DAs have historically cited as a major obstacle in prosecuting cases. Kelly says it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Rural offices in the state have a network where we help each other out when things get really, really bad,” she said. “But if you’re not asking for help, things fester.”
Kelly says she’s met with all the DAs in the state, “and here is one change. I have no problem asking for help. Even if the office is totally staffed, I’ll continue to network with attorneys across the state if something comes up and I don’t have enough staff to prosecute a case.”
Recognizing that reliance on help from other DA offices is only a temporary fix, she is structuring a plan for a more permanent solution.
“In the last few years, 20 to 30 attorneys have gone through the office. Twenty to 30 attorneys. If fully staffed, this would be an incredible office to work with, working on interesting cases and getting experience.”
Kelly has hired a very seasoned prosecutor who came out of retirement to work for her until she can find the right person to replace her. Last week, she hired a chief prosecutor – on a permanent basis – with a “very good reputation and a high success rate of prosecuting sexual assault cases.” The chief prosecutor will work with the younger attorneys whom, Kelly predicts, will fill some of her positions. She already reports getting calls from attorneys who are telling her they want to work for her, but “it’s a challenge when attorneys don’t know if they’ll be working here three months from now.”
“Fully staffed” in the past has translated into five full time prosecuting attorneys but Kelly says that is not enough.
“Attorneys working felony cases should have no more than 150 cases,” Kelly said. “In this office, attorneys have been managing 400 cases. That’s insanity. It’s also unethical and leads to attorneys doing shoddy or incompetent work.”
With counties now working on their budgets and the DA’s office doing that, as well, Kelly plans to ask for eleven prosecutors.
“I’m optimistic I can get that. But I need nine,” she said.
“We have been in conversation with DA Kelly and understand her need to increase staffing levels in order to climb out of the backlog of cases that she has to handle,” Alamosa County Administrator Roni Wisdom said.
“The Commissioners are very much aware that the DA's office is going to need additional funding. They have always been strong supporters of the District Attorney's office and are determined to provide as much assistance that they can within Alamosa County's ability. We have not seen the request from DA Kelly yet but are looking forward to working with her and her staff.”
Another piece of Kelly’s strategy going forward revolves around collaboration – collaboration between the DA’s office and law enforcement agencies in the valley as well as collaboration among the agencies. “When you have organized crime, you need good collaboration with law enforcement in investigations.”
What that collaboration will look like will vary, but Kelly envisions a strong working relationship. “
We have to be invited, but the DA’s office should be called out to crime scenes to guide in the collection of evidence,” Kelly said.
But collaboration is already in place as, according to Alamosa Police Department Chief Ken Anderson, he walked into the station one evening and there were three attorneys from the DA’s office assisting officers with arrest warrants.
DA Kelly will meet with the SLV Board of Commissioners on Sept. 26 to discuss her budget requests as well as her vision for the office. But it really all comes down to the voters.
“I’m committed to repairing relationships with law enforcement,” Kelly said. “And I’m totally committed to the valley – I have no intention of using this position as a steppingstone to something else. It’s up to the voters. If the valley wants me here, I’m going to be here for a long time.”