Alamosa council considers attorney changes

ALAMOSA — Faces and roles may be changing in Alamosa’s municipal court.

Since Municipal Judge Daniel Powell’s retirement the end of December, the court has begun a new era under Judge James McDonald.

Further changes may be coming, as the Alamosa city council is considering combining the roles of city attorney and city prosecutor or having the city prosecutor under the city attorney’s supervision. Gene Farish has served as the city’s prosecutor for many years, and Erich Schwiesow serves as the city attorney. If the positions are combined, Farish is not interested in assuming both, but Schwiesow would be interested in the combined position, Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks told the council during a work session this week.

She added that regardless of whether or not the council decides to combine the positions, the city must renegotiate compensation for Farish since his duties and hours have increased since his last contract. He was hired for less than quarter-time work/pay but is now working close to half time.

“I strongly believe it is a part-time position,” Brooks said.

She said if the positions are not combined, although Farish would not have his office in the city building, the city would make room and resources available for him when he is here.

The council will meet with Farish on March 28 to discuss a new contract.

If the council decides to combine the positions, both Farish and Schwiesow would need time to adjust their practices accordingly, Brooks added. They have indicated they would need 6-8 months to make that transition, she said.

Farish shared his thoughts on the subject during the Wednesday work session.

He said everyone is still learning how the new municipal judge wants to operate the court. For example, Judge McDonald has said he would be the one to make referrals to the Center for Restorative Programs, which is coordinating a new court diversion program for the city, and he would determine restitution amounts.

“We are learning a lot of good things about how he wants to operate,” Farish said.

Farish said he did not see as many people going to jail through the municipal court system as in the past but would still be recommending it for some habitual offenders. The city council amended its ordinances to significantly reduce the offenses that would be eligible for incarceration, at least on first offenses.

Farish said his workload has increased significantly, to almost half time now, but everyone from city police and staff to his office is working well together as they adjust to new procedures, and he believed the workload was leveling out. He said not all of the work he performs is in court, but a lot of it is conducted in his office, such as reviewing files, conducting research and preparing for court.

As far as the city prosecutor working under the city attorney, Farish said he did not know why the city would want to do that. He said he and Schwiesow get along well, but he did not think it made sense to put someone who has not worked as a prosecutor in charge of the prosecutor. Farish said he believed the legal roles were working well as they are.

“It’s not that the system is broken. The system is changing,” Farish said.

Councilor Kristina Daniel said the city council has been talking about combining the city prosecutor and attorney positions for a while. “I am in favor of combining them because I think there’s some value to that,” she said. “I do see our court continuing to grow.”

Councilman Michael Carson said he did not believe he had enough information yet to make a decision on combining the roles, but he believed Farish’s contract needed to be renegotiated because his workload has increased and he should be adequately compensated for his time.

Councilman Charles Griego agreed and said he had worked with Farish many years and appreciated the work he performed for the city.

Councilman David Broyles also acknowledged Farish’s work and said it was time the city renegotiated his contract.

Farish said whatever direction the council took, he felt honored to have worked with the city for 30 years.

Caption: Municipal prosecutor Gene Farish, left, speaks to the Alamosa city council during a work session on Wednesday. Councilors from left are Jan Vigil, Liz Thomas Hensley, Michael Carson, Mayor Ty Coleman and Councilor David Broyles. Councilors Kristina Daniel and Charles Griego are out of view to the right./Courier photo by Ruth Heide