George Brauchler wins hotly contested DA race to succeed Carol Chambers

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Update, November 8, 3:55 p.m.: I just connected by phone with George Brauchler, the winner in the much-scrutinized race for district attorney in the 18th Judicial District, discussed in detail below. He mused that, aside from the Craig Silverman-Bill Ritter slugfest for Denver DA in the 1990s, this may have been the most expensive prosecutor's campaign in state history. "I'm proud of the campaign we ran," he says. "It was hypercompetitive out there."

Brauchler has already met with current DA Carol Chambers to plan for a smooth transition and says he needs "to bring myself up to speed" with judges and law enforcement -- as well as several big cases on the horizon, including the Edward Montour death penalty marathon, which is headed back to court in a few weeks.

And Aurora shootings suspect James Holmes? His preliminary hearing is now slated for January 7. Brauchler is sworn into office on January 8. For more on that case, keep reading.

Original item, 1:01 p.m.: The race for top prosecutor in Denver's southeast suburbs, which attracted national attention because of the pending trial of Aurora theater shootings suspect James Holmes -- who may face the death penalty in the case -- has been won by Republican George Brauchler. An ex-military prosecutor, Brauchler bested his predecessor's handpicked successor in a close GOP primary and then overcame a surprisingly stiff challenge from the Democratic candidate for the job, retired Arapahoe County judge Ethan Feldman, in a sprawling judicial district that isn't quite as red as it used to be.

As detailed in last month's feature "Lethal Election," the campaign for district attorney in the 18th Judicial District was one of the few keenly contested DA races in the state -- and worth attention for reasons that go well beyond the Holmes case. The 18th, which encompasses Arapahoe, Elbert, Douglas and Lincoln counties, is the largest prosecution district in the state, and whoever won would be taking over after a tumultuous two terms by current DA Carol Chambers, who's generated controversy on several fronts, from her heavyhanded habitual criminal policy to misconduct allegations in death-penalty cases.

Brauchler, who was also involved in the prosecution of two men who supplied one of the guns used in the 1999 Columbine shootings, ran against Chambers in the 2008 primary as an outsider and lost. Earlier this year, though, he defeated Chambers's top assistant, Leslie Hansen, in a much tighter primary brawl that got ugly at times. That set up the showdown with Feldman, a former prosecutor and veteran judge who stepped down from the bench last year to run for DA in a district that hasn't seen a Democrat hold that office since the 1960s.

The Feldman-Brauchler contest was mostly civil but spirited, with Brauchler pushing his energy and military record -- he's handled several cases as a JAG officer in the Army Reserve -- while Feldman stressed his wide range of experience and his long familiarity with the district. With interest in the Holmes case running high, both candidates had to field a barrage of questions about the death penalty; at one point Feldman accused Brauchler of "exploiting" the Holmes case for political gain on his Facebook page, a charge Brauchler denied.

Feldman insisted prosecution should be above politics -- and even obtained some endorsements from Republican officials, including Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson. But party affiliation still counts mightily in the 18th, and Brauchler dominated in three of the four counties, even though Feldman made a strong showing in Arapahoe. In the end, Brauchler prevailed by around 24,000 votes out of nearly 400,000 cast, a 53-47 edge.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "James Holmes case exploited on Facebook by district attorney candidate?"

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