100 days into term, new Jeffco DA talks progress on new innocence project, pay equity in office

DA touts early accomplishments around conviction review

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/5/21

Last year, Alexis King promised voters she would make big changes in the DA’s office if they made her the first Democrat to lead that office in recent history. Voters apparently liked what they …

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100 days into term, new Jeffco DA talks progress on new innocence project, pay equity in office

DA touts early accomplishments around conviction review

Posted

Last year, Alexis King promised voters she would make big changes in the DA’s office if they made her the first Democrat to lead that office in recent history.

Voters apparently liked what they heard as they elected her by a nearly 10-point margin over Republican candidate Matt Durkin. Now, just over 100 days into her term, King said she is already making good on several of those promises despite taking office amid a pandemic that has left her office with a dramatic backlog of cases.

In addition to getting attorneys back in the courtroom in February after a two-month suspension of jury trials, King said she is proud to have launched what she said is “the first conviction integrity unit with full-time staff in the state.”

Addressing injustice

King said the goal of that unit is to review and investigate claims that convicted people are actually innocent as well as past sentences that are “unjust, inequitable or disproportionate to the crime.” Referrals come to the unit through several avenues, including defense lawyers, CU-Boulder’s Innocence Project and even law enforcement officers and King said the project has already received cases to review from all of them.

The unit also had one of its first major successes when it successfully petitioned the court to reduce the 24-year-sentence for a now 56-year-old person convicted of passing a fraudulent $163 check. That person, who had already served six years, was eligible for immediate parole. But had they served their original 24-year-sentence, the cost to taxpayers would’ve been $952,824.

“The unit is staffed by a former public defender community as well as a 30-year major case investigator who started his career with Arvada police and then we have an intern and victim advocates assigned to those cases,” said King, who said the unit also connects people who want their case reviewed to attorneys in the community so they also have an advocate on their side. “So we have staffed it well to do good work.”

Earlier this year, King became one of the three district attorneys from across Colorado to be named to a state task force headed by Attorney General Phil Weiser that is investigating the unprecedented spike in fraudulent unemployment claims that have resulted from the COVID-19 crisis with a focus on large-scale offenders.

She said the task force, which she said is currently “in investigation mode,” but that there will likely be more for the First Judicial DA’s office to do eventually.

King, the First Judicial District’s first female DA, said one of her other big initial efforts has been to initiate what she calls a “comprehensive analysis of pay” within the DA’s office to “determine whether inequities exist.”

Following the completion of that analysis, King said in a press release that she then took “swift action on advised adjustments to pay ranges and individual pay” and “instituted a transparent, fair and equitable pay structure that her constituents will be able to rely on for the remainder of her time as DA.”

While King said she could not discuss specifics about individual adjustments, she said she thinks they lay a good foundation for those in the office to feel it is doing right by them and adhering to Colorado’s new pay equity law.

“We made adjustments for individuals to make it more reflective of experience in multiple parts of the office and the new structure is going to be able to reflect more merit based work as we move into the fall,” she said. “What I really hope for a staff is long-term they have a better understanding of how our evaluation process and therefor our pay structure work and so they know they can really rely on it and it will be transparent moving forward.”

Ongoing issues

During the interview with King, Colorado Community Media also asked her about the status of the investigation into the records that Jefferson County Republican Party chair Denise Mund suggest that as many as 3,000 people were potentially ineligible to vote when they cast ballots last November.

King responded that “she could not discuss pending investigations.”

But even as she has been quick to make changes where she can, King’s biggest challenges remains one which she has limited control over: the massive backlog of cases resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, King’s take on that subject is that “as long as we can go to trial we are in better shape then when we can’t.”

“Right now we are just staying the course in trying to work through the most high priority trials, which often involve folks that pose the most significant safety risk and are the trials that are the most difficult for victims,” she said.

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