Election Brings Changes to DA Offices
Amy Padden and John Kellner in 18th District nail-biter

by Hank Lacey
Law Week watermark

Election Day 2020 brought a blue tint to district attorney offices around the Front Range as the state’s voters chose Democrats in three judicial districts and set up a close battle going down to the wire in the state’s largest. The electorate also fired a district court judge in the north metro area — an unusual outcome since Colorado adopted a system of judicial retention elections in 1966 — and retained two Supreme Court justices and two Court of Appeals judges.

The 18th Judicial District Teeters Between Parties

Amy Padden has a chance to become the first Democratic district attorney to serve in the 18th Judicial District since the 1960s. Caught in a tight race against Republican John Kellner, she would likely face an automatic recount in her quest to succeed the GOP’s George Brauchler.

The 18th Judicial District, established by the voters in the 1962 general election, has not had a Democratic DA since Martin Miller, who served as the district’s first DA, left office in 1969. Michael Miller, an attorney at Miller & Steiert, Martin Miller’s son, said his dad would be thrilled by Padden’s possible victory. “He would be, is, tickled to death, wherever he is.” Martin Miller, a disabled World War II veteran, died in May 2007 at the age of 84.

Democratic Woman Wins in 1st Judicial District

Alexis King, a former Denver County Court magistrate and deputy DA in the 1st Judicial District, handily defeated her GOP opponent to take the top prosecutor’s job in Gilpin and Jefferson counties. King gained at least 34,000 more votes, out of about 357,000 cast, than did Republican Matthew Durkin. King will be the first Democratic woman ever elected DA in the district and the first Democratic DA elected in the district since 1996. She will succeed Republican Peter Weir.

Mason Wins in the 17th District

Democrat Brian Mason defeated his GOP opponent Tim McCormack for the chief prosecutor slot in the 17th judicial district, which includes Adams and Broomfield counties. Mason, currently the district’s chief trial deputy DA, earned a 55.6%-44.5% margin of victory in a race where more than 264,000 votes were cast.

8th Judicial District Will Have First Democratic DA Since 1970s

In the 8th Judicial District, which includes Jackson and Larimer counties, Gordon McLaughlin will be the first Democratic DA since January 1973. The district has had three Republican DAs since then, including one who served for 32 years before term limits were mandated. McLaughlin, a veteran deputy DA in the district, defeated the GOP’s Mitch Murray by a six percentage-point margin in the first contested DA race in the district since 1992.

McCann Easily Reelected in Denver

Denver district attorney Beth McCann easily outpaced her Libertarian opponent, William Robinson III, to win another term as lead prosecutor in the 2nd judicial district. McCann, a former state representative, is the first woman ever to serve as DA in the district.

Judge Tomee Crespin Not Retained

Seventeenth Judicial District Judge Tomee Crespin, lost her retention election and will be replaced on the bench by Gov. Jared Polis. The district’s Commission on Judicial Performance Standards found that Crespin fell short of those standards. The commission accused Crespin of failing to “treat those appearing before her with respect.”

Crespin, whom former Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed in 2016, told the Denver Post in October that the negative performance evaluation is the result of bias. A sole practitioner before taking the bench, Crespin becomes one of the few judges in Colorado history who have lost a retention election. Ironically, the judge she replaced was also rejected by the district’s voters.

Supreme Court, Court of Appeals Judges Keep Offices

Coloradoans kept state supreme court justices Melissa Hart and Carlos Samour, Jr., as well as state Court of Appeals judges Ted Tow III and Craig Welling, on the job. Each gained more than 70% “yes” votes on the retention question.