Two Democrats — Amy Padden and Matt Maillaro — are facing off in the party’s June 30 primary for district attorney in the 18th Judicial District. The winner will face unopposed Republican John Kellner in November’s general election. Ballots were being mailed to voters starting June 8.
The judicial district encompasses Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. The winner in November will succeed current DA George Brauchler, a Republican, who is term limited.
What makes you the best choice for this office?
Both my opponents work for our current DA in leadership roles. I’m the candidate to bring change from the outside. Moreover, I’m the candidate with substantial, hands-on experience actually implementing criminal justice reform. I started an adult diversion program in another office, which I built from the ground up. These programs divert non-violent offenders from court, instead connecting them with mental health and substance abuse treatment and tools to turn their lives around, while at the same time repairing the harm to their communities. When they complete the program, charges are dismissed, and they’re not saddled with a felony record.
What would you say is the most important single issue facing the next 18th Judicial District Attorney?
Racial inequities. The 18th Judicial District is the most diverse district in the state and includes Aurora, which is my home. But we know that traditional policing and prosecution practices — such as profiling, stop and frisk, and mandatory minimums — disproportionally affect people of color. The most recent, limited data available on the 18th Judicial District DA’s website shows that blacks received prison sentences at a rate approximately 2.5 times their representation within the district. We need a DA who will address these inequities and implicit bias who is unafraid to take a hard look at data, share the results, and implement change.
If elected, what must you accomplish in order for you to consider your term a success?
I will implement meaningful alternatives to incarceration, including a robust Adult Diversion program that is far more inclusive than the small program currently in the office. I will also stand up a Community Engagement Office, building on my community relationships to establish a strong connection between the DA’s office and community stakeholders and re-establishing trust with marginalized communities. And, I will establish a Conviction Integrity Unit with teeth, unlike the current unit which consists of unpaid volunteers, whose review is limited to claims of actual innocence. Not surprisingly, it has found no instances of a wrongful conviction.
What is most needed in a district attorney tasked with overseeing a district serving more than 1 million people?
True leadership, willingness to listen, and experience to implement change. JD18 is extremely diverse, with people from all over the world and over 150 languages spoken. We know many of these people are not going to receive equal treatment under our current regime; we need someone who can bring real change.
I was mentored by a federal judge who declared mandatory minimums unconstitutional in the 90’s. I have served in leadership roles under John Walsh, Obama’s appointed U.S. Attorney. And I will continue the conversations I’ve been having with our communities about the changes that they want to see.
What is your stance on capital punishment and Colorado repealing the death penalty?
I am opposed to the death penalty and openly stated as much, before its repeal by our state legislature. We know the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, and we have witnessed cases where those sentenced to death have been exonerated. But we also know the death penalty cannot be fairly applied — it has been disproportionately sought and obtained against people of color. I support the Legislature’s repeal of, and will oppose efforts to reinstate, the death penalty. Its repeal will also prevent prosecutors from using it as a bargaining chip to obtain a life sentence, a tactic I’ve condemned.
I have fought for this community (18thJudicial District) for more than 14 of my 22 years as a prosecutor. I understand every aspect of the state criminal justice system, including having tried virtually every type of crime in the criminal code. I also understand the system’s current inefficiencies and biases, and how to bring change to the system immediately. I am the best choice to increase justice for our kids by keeping them out of justice system entanglement, and to achieve equity in the system by changing practices that lead to disparate results because of wealth, race, citizenship or addiction.
There are many important issues (including addiction, mental health, bail and police reform), but we can impact public safety and inequity most by dealing with the juvenile justice system and keeping kids from being funneled into that system through increasing diversion practices. I will divert many more children from the juvenile justice system and give a larger population of kids the opportunity to benefit from restorative justice and other support we provide through Diversion. We do this by changing criteria, removing factors that are likely to allow implicit bias to affect decision making, and changing what “success” looks like.
Coalition building and demonstrable and lasting change. It is imperative that the next DA has the support of — and relationships with — the many justice system stakeholders. The DA function intersects with police, mental health, juvenile and family service providers, schools, judicial entities like probation and pretrial services, reform organizations, community leaders, NAACP, and many others. There will undoubtedly be some resistance to change, but I have the experience, and the relationships necessary to implement real and lasting reform. To consider the term a success, I will want to see increases in services and rehabilitation and decreases in disparity, incarceration and recidivism.
Humility, the ability to listen to your community, and the experience to act decisively. The DA should be a servant leader and answer to the community. The DA needs to have strong relationships within the community and must recognize the need to represent the entire jurisdiction. While a political process is necessary to be elected, the politics should end there. Your elected DA should not be interested in headlines or political capital, or anything that would indicate they are placing themselves before the community. The DA needs the courage to make difficult calls to best serve the people.
My position on the death penalty has largely been influenced by the murdered victims, and family members left in the wake of brutal crimes. Even before the repeal, the system was not viable — realistic conversations with family members were impossible and the emotional impact unfair, given the agonizing court process and near certainty the punishment would never be carried out. I believe that the death penalty is unworkable and therefore was properly repealed. The main difference now is the death penalty cannot be used as leverage by prosecutors, which in my opinion is an unethical practice, so that is a benefit.
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