District Attorney highlights Coffee with the Chief in Center

Photo by Patrick Shea Attending via ZOOM, District Attorney Anne Kelly proposed a budget for her office and shared information about herself during the Saguache County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Sept. 27

CENTER — Newly appointed 12th Judicial District Attorney Anne Kelly met with a dozen residents in Center for the monthly Coffee with the Chief gathering at Town Hall on Sept. 24. Interim Police Chief Aaron Fresquez deputized fellow officer and twin brother Adam to introduce Kelly and manage the nearly three-hour conversation.

Three days after meeting residents in Center, Kelly joined the Saguache County Commissioners working meeting on Sept. 27 via ZOOM.

Appointed to the 12th Judicial District by Governor Jared Polis on Aug. 29, Kelly was a senior deputy DA in Boulder County for the past three years. After former DA Alonzo Payne resigned from District 12, Kelly and four DAs from other districts filled the void before her appointment.

Kelly started her law career in 2002, working privately and then serving the public sector. She worked for DAs who were Republicans and Democrats in the 18th, 19th, and 20th judicial districts.

Kelly hit the ground running in the San Luis Valley. She expressed her relief at a relatively calm Seven Peaks Music Festival during her first 10 days on the job, praising Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick for keeping her informed.

“We appreciate how she’s working with us,” Officer Adam Fresquez told Center residents at Town Hall, noting major improvements over cooperation with previous DAs.

When asked about “Personal Recognizance Bonds,” Kelly described the complexity of recommending bond amounts to a judge. According to one resident’s perspective, when a judge releases a person free of payment in exchange for a promise to return to court, it seems like a free pass.

Kelly explained how the severity of the alleged crime might not correlate with the bond amount. When a person is clearly a danger to the community, Kelly said she pursues a high bond to keep them off the streets. But a perpetrator charged with repeated misdemeanors might warrant a higher bond for continually disregarding the law. Kelly also emphasized how poverty should not be penalized. Considering comparable charges, a person with resources might be released while others without means remain behind bars.

At the close of the meeting, Kelly explained how she needs to campaign quickly for the Nov. 8 election. Instead of completing Payne’s term, Kelly must hustle. She placed a print order for her campaign signs, and she has been making appearances while completing her current DA tasks.

“I will keep working hard,” Kelly said.

On Sept. 27, Kelly attended the Saguache County Commissioners meeting. In addition to introducing herself, she presented figures from comparable districts to justify her budget increase.

“I hate asking for money,” Kelly said. “That’s why I left private practice because it’s not comfortable for me. But I can tell you that this current situation is unsustainable. I can turn this ship around, but I can’t do it without the lawyers I need.”

Commissioner Lynne Thompson noted how the DA requested $90,000 last year and $285,000 for 2023. According to Kelly, the pandemic upended the judicial system, so her team looked at 2019 figures to compare budgets and caseloads across comparable districts. The budgeted cost this year comes to $39 per person to align with statewide averages. Over the past four years, District 12 residents in the San Luis Valley paid $20 a year to fund the office, which is one third of what District 14 residents pay.

“But if you look at the number of cases filed, which is the bellwether for District Attorney office staffing,” Kelly explained, “we have an extraordinarily high number of felony cases.”

Kelly shared how homicide cases require “two deputy district attorneys, a paralegal, and a tremendous amount of time for preparation. When we’re talking about an average of 12.5 homicides per year in the Valley versus, for example, the 14th district with 2.6, that is an extraordinary difference. That cost per citizen should also reflect that we need more resources in order to keep the Valley safe.”

Although the budget includes an annual salary of $75,000 for new lawyers who handle misdemeanors and $85,000 for attorneys in charge of felony cases, Kelly said she would not raise her own salary, a statutory minimum of $130,000. She is seeking one assistant to work with her, probably earning between $110,000 to $120,000 a year.

“If we have a DA and an assistant DA,” Kelly surmised, “that would probably cover the supervisory duties for the rest of the office.”

Concluding her introduction, Kelly said, “When I came down here and saw what was happening, as a prosecutor my heart was broken. I couldn’t imagine what victims were going through. My motivation for being down here is not personal. I had a very good job in Boulder, and a nice house. I came down here because there is a need unlike any other need I’ve seen in the prosecutor world. Crime victims need to be respected. It affects the health of the entire community.”

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