George Brauchler knew he was taking a possible career-ending risk by entering the GOP primary race for district attorney in the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.
Not only is his opponent, Carol Chambers, the incumbent (right); she also happens to be about as politically well-connected as you can be in the metro area's teeming southeastern suburbs. Her husband, attorney Nathan Chambers, is the chair of the Arapahoe County Republican Party.
But Brauchler, a former Jefferson County prosecutor and Army reservist, says he's willing to face the wrath of party insiders. In his view, the controversies surrounding Chambers' management of one of the largest judicial districts in the state have become too huge to ignore.
A surprise victor in a primary runoff for the open DA's seat four years ago, Chambers has had a stormy tenure since, from her much-criticized boost in habitual criminal charges against chronic but low-level offenders to being publicly sanctioned for butting into a civil case on behalf of an Englewood official and her aggressive pursuit of the death penalty, which led to her office being removed from one capital case because of alleged misconduct.
Brauchler has taken Chambers to task for spending $60,000 in taxpayer money to defend herself against censure in the civil case and for billing the state for her unsuccessful effort to execute two Limon prisoners charged with killing another inmate. He claims she's alienated judges and provoked massive turnover in her own office; most unusual of all, he says she's lost the confidence of law enforcement. Several of the Fraternal Order of Police organizations in the district have endorsed Brauchler.
"Historically, police don't endorse against an incumbent DA," Brauchler says. "The momentum is really shifting."
Chambers insists that her office has "a great relationship" with cops in the district, strengthened in part by her emphasis on speedier resolutions of officer-involved-shooting investigations. "There's always going to be a few disgruntled people, but for anyone to say there's a problem between this office and law enforcement is just outright wrong," she says.
She says considerable turnover is common when a new district attorney takes office but that many of the vacancies have been filled with seasoned prosecutors from other jurisdictions: "Look at our results. We've been effective in reducing crime."
On his website Brauchler touts his endorsements and achievements, including prosecuting the men who supplied some of the firepower to Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Chambers' campaign site declares that she won't accept endorsements and that "crime is down — keep it that way."
Brauchler could hardly be considered soft on crime. He approves of the recent death-penalty conviction Chambers' office obtained against Sir Mario Owens for the slaying of a witness, acknowledging that the crime was "an attack against the system." But he says it's "fiscally irresponsible" for Chambers to pursue long prison sentences for even nonviolent habitual offenders when the prison system is already overloaded. "It's not justice," he says, "and nobody else does it that way."
The candidates have an opportunity to square off at 5:30 pm Wednesday night, July 9, at a town hall gathering at the Hacienda Colorado restaurant at I-25 and Lincoln Avenue. –Alan Prendergast