Off to the (DA) Races
Colorado judicial districts choose candidates for next top prosecutors

by Julia Cardi

The winners in Colorado’s district attorney primaries emerged early in the evening of June 30. Even as counties continued to report their results throughout the night, the vote splits remained mostly steady.

Only six contested races took place: Two Republican primaries in the 4th and 11th judicial districts and four Democratic contests in the 1st, 5th, 12th and 18th districts. Now, with the candidates chosen, six races will be contested in November:

  • Democrat Alexis King will face Republican Matthew Durkin in the 1st District.
  • Democratic incumbent Kaitlin Turner will face Republican challenger Linda Stanley in the 11th District.
  • Democrat Gordon McLaughlin will face Republican Mitch Murray in the 8th District.
  • Democrat Rodney Fouracre will face Republican William Culver in the 16th District.
  • Democrat Brian Mason will face Republican Tim McCormack in the 17th District.
  • Democrat Amy Padden will face Republican John Kellner in the 18th District.

Perhaps the highest-profile race is in the 18th District, where Padden and Kellner will vie to replace term-limited George Brauchler, a Republican. The district includes covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties and contains about one-fifth of Colorado’s population.

Padden so far has raised $101,488, which outstripped her Democratic primary opponent Matt Maillaro’s fundraising. Padden’s campaign could not be reached for comment about Tuesday night’s results.

Kellner, currently chief deputy DA in the district, said he doesn’t take the jurisdiction’s penchant for electing Republican DAs for granted. But he believes his experience prosecuting complex criminal cases is a strength over Padden. Padden is a former Colorado assistant attorney general and partner at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell. She ran for the 2018 Democratic nomination for Colorado attorney general.

He touted his experience helping create the 18th District’s veterans’ treatment court, a flagship specialty court in the district.

“I just think there is a belief that being a Republican DA candidate means you want to lock up everybody and throw away the key,” Kellner said. “I believe in the power of rehabilitation and second chances. I think most district attorneys really do.”

The next DA in the 18th will have a new responsibility for which there’s no recent guidance: Facilitating the split of Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties from Arapahoe County to create Colorado’s 23rd Judicial District, which will elect a district attorney in 2024 and take effect in 2025. The state legislature passed a bill allowing the split before its two-and-a-half-month hiatus due to the coronavirus. Colorado has had 22 judicial districts since 1963, and the 18th District’s population has grown to more than 1 million.

Kellner said the next district attorney will have an important role in facilitating the split to ensure neither district loses necessary expertise or quality of services when the resources are divided.

“I think it’s going to be important to have somebody with the experience to know what we have right now and how to fairly and equitably divide up our resources – and I’m talking about people as well – to make sure there’s not a drop off in services or public safety come the actual split.”

This article appeared in the July 6 issue of Law Week Colorado. To read other articles from that issue, order a copy online