Office Politics

The race is on for Boulder County District Attorney.

"Under the Colorado rules of evidence, the prosecution is obligated to disclose not only the results of the DNA, but the statistical database that the results rely on," says Denver attorney Lisa Wayne, who is representing another defendant in the rape. "The Hmong database is more unusual; it's not as known as the Caucasian database, and because of its novelty, you have to disclose it in a timely way so the defense can make an attack on it." Although she declines to speculate as to whether Keenan's delay in presenting evidence was deliberate or negligent, she adds, "On a major case, how could you forget?"

One group that won't be voting for Keenan includes the women who once served as Boulder County's Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. The SANE program, which specialized in physical examinations and collecting forensic evidence, had started as part of the Niwot-based Child and Family Advocacy Center in 1997 and won national acclaim in the years that followed. But in October 1999, six of the seven SANE nurses resigned, along with the two doctors working with the program; all of them cited problems with Keenan. Keenan, however, said that one of the nurses had made significant mistakes in a particular case, putting the entire center in jeopardy ("The Final Exam," October 7, 1999).

Within a month of the debacle, both the center and the Boulder Rape Crisis Team were saying they hoped to reconstitute the SANE program by the beginning of this year under the management of the one nurse who had not resigned, Cory Hilser. Hilser had stayed on when her fellow nurses left, she says, because "I didn't want to give it up. It was very important to me."

Law and order: Mary Keenan wants to be Boulder's first new DA in 28 years.
Law and order: Mary Keenan wants to be Boulder's first new DA in 28 years.
Can a Republican win in Boulder? Dave Sanderson plans to find out.
Can a Republican win in Boulder? Dave Sanderson plans to find out.

Now she, too, is gone.

When she first took over the program, Hilser was anxious to establish contact with the DA's office. "It never happened," she says. "A number of times last fall, I asked for a meeting with Mary. [The refusal] wasn't overt -- just 'Let's do this another time.' I knew the program couldn't go if we didn't have their support. The nurses who were applying were asking questions."

When the SANE program is finally re-established - the date is now projected to be early in 2001 -- it will be based in either one or three hospital emergency rooms rather than having its own site. This will ensure medical supervision, though the comforting sense of home that the nurses were able to provide in the Niwot facility will be missing.

"It was just such a good program," says Hilser. "A therapist of one of the patients came to a meeting and said her patient told her the SANE exam was the most reassuring part of the whole experience."

Although Keenan defeated DeMuth in the primary, she does have opposition: Dave Sanderson, a Republican -- albeit an unlikely Republican -- running in highly Democratic Boulder County. Sanderson has practiced criminal defense and prosecuted civil-rights legislation in federal and state, as well as Boulder, courts. He has won significant victories for the disabled, including one on behalf of a man suffering from bipolar disorder who was being evicted from federally funded housing. He has donated his services to the poor through Legal Services, and he works for environmental causes, having represented activists protesting logging and protesters who chained themselves to the gate of Boulder's Syntex Chemicals, one of Colorado's major polluters.

Keenan points out that none of Sanderson's experience involves criminal prosecution, but Sanderson shrugs this off. "There is nothing more difficult in the law than to defend people accused of crimes," he says.

Sanderson has promised to clean house in the DA's office if elected. In letters and e-mails to supporters, he's detailed steps he would take to curb future riots on the Hill, and he's spoken out forcefully against the national war on drugs, which he says has eroded civil liberties in this country and caused "increasing use of warrantless searches, racial profiling, dilution of reasonable suspicion and probable cause, aggressive forfeiture laws, mandatory prison sentences, more drug testing and increasing military involvement."

Although he concurs with criticisms that the current DA's office is soft on crime, Sanderson's deepest concerns for the future of justice in Boulder revolve around civil liberties. "Alex Hunter is laissez-faire, hands off; he's the invisible DA. He's highly ineffectual," Sanderson says. "But Keenan has a zeal that I think is inappropriate. A DA should be even-tempered, even-keeled, dispassionate, professional. I think she's pushed the limits in some cases. I do not believe in convictions at any cost, and I think any person who has been a professional prosecutor for all of his or her professional life risks losing sight of the goal, which is to do justice.

"Keenan is a zealot. She's a one-trick pony: sexual assault. And even in that, her effectiveness has been significantly questioned."

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