AG Weiser, DA Kelly in a polite, but real stand-off

ALAMOSA — If interactions between Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and 12th Judicial District Attorney Anne Kelly during a special meeting called by the San Luis Valley Commissioners on Monday morning are any indication, the AG and the DA may be heading for a polite but real stand-off.

The conflict centers around an agreement, signed by Kelly’s predecessor, Alonzo Payne that AG Weiser has said the DA’s office must comply with. Kelly argues complying with the terms of that agreement will cost her office time and money, finite resources that are already strained.

She also argues that the agreement stipulates its terms be re-evaluated by the AG’s office if a new DA is put into office. That re-evaluation has not taken place, she says. The AG’s office is demanding her office comply with an agreement that they are not complying with themselves.

Objections to the AG’s position raised by stakeholders in the meeting, including commissioners from all six counties, representatives for the county attorneys, law enforcement officials from Alamosa County and City and a lead victim in the case that brought everyone together in the first place, suggest they are in unanimous support of Kelly.

What’s in the agreement and where did it come from?

The agreement, obtained by the Valley Courier, was crafted by the AG’s office following former DA Payne’s office being found in violation of a record number of violations of the Victims Rights Act (VRA). Three days after signing the agreement, Payne resigned from office.

Two weeks later, Kelly, a career prosecutor with the DA’s office in Boulder, was appointed as the new DA by Governor Jared Polis. She was elected to the position in November.

The agreement contains many requirements. Most notably, a monitor appointed by the AG will spend a minimum of six months overseeing the DA’s office with “full access to cases and personnel.” The monitor will be paid for by the DA’s office.

Kelly argues the agreement does not set any limit on how many cases the monitor will review or limit on how much the DA’s office will be required to spend.

“No attorney would have signed this agreement,” Kelly told the Valley Courier recently.

The agreement also has several specific policy, procedural and practice requirements related to the Victim Rights Act (VRA) that, Kelly says, will consume a significant amount of her time and the time of her staff when the staff needs to focus on prosecuting cases.

Each of the requirements calls for approval by the monitor before proceeding to the next stage. For example, Kelly must select and review VRA policies from other DA offices in the state prior to developing a policy for her office. But she must first get approval from the monitor for which DAs’ offices’ policies she can select.

Also, the requirements — ranging from writing new policies, procedures for contacting victims including documentation about what was discussed, putting out new information for victims, changing the website and developing a training program — are all required to be put in place within the first two, four or six weeks, respectively, after the monitor is hired. There are subsequent follow-up deadlines for review and approval by the monitor and more deadlines for implementation.

The conversation and who said what

In the meeting, Weiser said that, when Payne resigned and his designee took over, “the office was in a shambles.” He acknowledged that, in a little more than six months, Kelly had done a “remarkable job” of rebuilding the office.

He then transitioned to his response with comments repeated, with some variations, for the rest of the conversation.

“This agreement is one that we take seriously because it is governing the rights of victims,” he said. The monitor and requirements of the agreement are meant to be “in service of what Anne Kelly is now doing,” and the monitor “is a mentor and a coach.”

“We see this process as one that helps to bring closure,” he said, assuring that “it won’t take long” and presumably viewing six months as not long. He added that the monitor he has in mind is a “very, very accomplished and respected DA” willing “to do this very economically,” for $5,000 to $10,000 maximum.

Kelly responded by informing the commissioners that, during the discussions she has had with the AG’s office, she told them that the Colorado District Attorney’s Council (CDAC) — who has provided a significant amount of help already — offered to do the monitoring for free. Weiser had declined, saying the CDAC presented a conflict of interest.

She criticized Weiser for how he frames the cost.

“When AG Weiser says it will only cost $5,000 to $10,00, he is talking to the poorest counties in Colorado. (That money) would help us with a much-needed upgrade to Wi-Fi and our digital storage. Any kind of money to provide a monitor when it’s not necessary is something that I can’t support,” Kelly said.

Weiser said he was sensitive to the fiscal needs of the Valley and is “confident that I can work with the commissioners and bring resources to the Valley. We’ve brought a lot of resources to the Valley and want to work with the commissioners and maintain a constructive and supportive relationship. We wouldn’t be suggesting this monitor if we didn’t think it would be helpful and supportive. It’s going to be an enabler and facilitator and won’t take long.”

Before he signed off, the Rio Grande County Attorney informed Weiser that she, along with the other county attorneys, would be willing to provide monitoring and mentoring for free. Weiser expressed interest in that idea.

“Just pick up the phone and reach out,” he said.

After Weiser exited the meeting, commissioners from Rio Grande, Alamosa, Costilla, Saguache, and Conejos continued to voice opposition to the AG’s stand on enforcing the agreement.

“What more can we do?” asked one commissioner. “We’ve told him what we think. What more can we do?”

Kelly suggested the commissioners call and write letters, an idea that others voiced approval for.

The meeting ended with encouragement from Lani Welch, the woman who became the face and voice of the victims.

“We stand together. We keep fighting. It worked with Payne. It can work now,” Welch said.

The Valley Courier reached out to the Attorney General with a series of questions and received a statement in response.

“As Attorney General Weiser said at the meeting, DA Kelly has made excellent strides in improving the office, responding to victims, and protecting their rights. The attorney general is very grateful for the input from the county commissioners and law enforcement leaders. The meeting yielded promising approaches that are worth investigating. Following the meeting, the Attorney General’s Office contacted Kelly about next steps that will protect victims and help the Valley,” the statement read.

The Valley Courier reached out to District Attorney Kelly, asking if she had spoken to the Attorney General’s office. She said she had received several texts indicating they “should talk” but had not had a chance to respond.

“I am hopeful that he now knows how the Valley feels and that might make him change his opinion about the necessity of the agreement,” Kelly said. “But I don’t know how to comment about what he’s going to do because I still haven’t been able to figure out his motivation.”

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