If DA Carol Chambers is right, everybody else is wrong

It's rare for a judge to order a reluctant district attorney to purse a rape case, finding that the DA's decision not to file was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. But that's what happened last year in a decade-old sex assault case in Arapahoe County that we reported on in "CU in Court" -- a case muddled by the fact that one of the suspects was a University of Colorado football player and prosecutors told the victim they didn't want to seem to be "jumping on the bandwagon" at the time of other rape allegations on the Boulder campus.

Judge Carlos Samour Jr. ruled that DNA samples and other evidence were "more than sufficient" to obtain convictions against two men, despite the passage of time and an initially reluctant victim, who's since been pressing prosecutors to pursue the case. Yet, as reported in this Denver Post article, District Attorney Carol Chambers is appealing Samour's decision and refusing to file charges -- even though Samour wants a special prosecutor, not her office, to actually prosecute the case.

It's ironic that Chambers, who came to office riding a rep for being harsh on violent criminals and compassionate to victims, is fighting so hard not to file charges this time, in a case she inherited from her predecessor. But it's hardly the first time Chambers has refused to accept rebuke from the bench -- or from anyone, for that matter. In fact, her characteristic defiance in the face of some serious setbacks raises basic questions about whether she's battling for justice or ego. For example:

1. Rather than accept reprimand by the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel over her interference in a civil case, she insisted on a disciplinary hearing. As noted in my 2007 feature "The Punisher," the ethics investigation cost taxpayers $60,000 and ended with Chambers becoming the first DA to be publicly censured in sixteen years. She didn't appeal that decision, but she did hold a press conference to dispute the panel's findings.

2. After taking a highly aggressive approach to death-penalty cases -- and finding an unusual way to finance the campaign, by billing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars for seeking to execute three clients of the Department of Corrections -- Chambers found her office disqualified from one of the cases because of a judge's finding of numerous ethical violations, including the questionable financing scheme (see "Bad Execution"). Chambers' office has vowed to appeal that ruling, too.

3. Asked by her opponent in last year's re-election campaign to admit her mistakes, Chambers reportedly responded that she hadn't made any.

4. Another "defeat" that Chambers is appealing has to do with an inmate named Jacinto Perez, an undocumented alien who was finishing his time for nonviolent felonies in Colorado's prison system when a shank was found in his cell in Limon. Although Perez was scheduled for deportation, Chambers' office insisted on filing habitual criminal charges on him -- meaning the state would end up paying to house him for another 24 years. The judge in the case thought that was insane and ended up giving Perez a "mere" eight years. Never mind the current state budget crisis, in which one of the major culprits is the burgeoning prison system; Chambers doesn't think eight years is enough time for this loser.

Why is Chambers right, and everybody else is wrong? Because she says so.


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