The 18th Judicial District has never elected a Democrat district attorney, but two candidates are looking to change that. Amy Padden and Matt Maillaro faced off Tuesday night in a Zoom debate to convince voters they’re the best choice in the June 30 Democratic primary.
Maillaro touted his experience as a career prosecutor. And while Padden said she has enough trial experience to oversee attorneys in the office, she said the district would benefit from someone in the top spot who hasn’t spent their career as a district attorney. Prompted by questions about how they would reform prosecution to address treatment of marginalized groups, both candidates spoke several times about the court system’s unequally harsh treatment of people of color.
“If we have more prosecutors of color, prosecutors that look like the community, we can address that in some way. But we also have to address implicit bias head-on,” Padden said. Moderator John Buckley had asked about how the shortage of prosecutors of color in the 18th District, which also tends to track in district attorney offices throughout the state, affects prosecution decisions. “We need to look at the data that exists and look at the trends that we’ve seen in prosecution … and see how race has factored into that.”
The two candidates are vying for a run at replacing Republican DA George Brauchler, who is term limited. The 18th District covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties.
Padden is a former Colorado assistant attorney general and partner at Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell. She has endorsements from several current lawmakers, including Sen. Faith Winter, Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet from the statehouse and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Maillaro, an assistant district attorney in the 18th, has picked up endorsements including state Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat.
Padden and Maillaro opened by mentioning the current protests over a police officer’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and outrage over the historical insulation of officers from prosecution for brutality.
Maillaro touted his ability to work with police leaders while also overseeing the prosecution of officers when necessary. He said he personally prosecuted an officer for sexual assault.
“I say this not because it’s a pleasure — it’s not something you want to do as a district attorney or as a prosecutor — but it’s to say that I don’t shrink from holding police or anybody else accountable in this jurisdiction,” he said.
Buckley also asked how each candidate would approach prosecution of noncitizens to minimize consequences to their legal status.
Maillaro and Padden both said they support approaches that reduce “collateral consequences” to immigration status, which Buckley pointed out defense attorneys say isn’t the common approach during Brauchler’s tenure.
“When we try to say, for example, that somebody who’s not documented should be treated the same way as somebody who is, the problem is, when you say that you’re looking at a certain type of facts and giving a certain type of offer without really considering who that person is in front of you,” Maillaro said.
Padden said she believes diversion programs are one way to allow noncitizens to avoid deportation if they are charged with crimes.
To persuade the audience she has enough relevant experience to supervise deputy district attorneys, Padden talked about her background trying several cases as an assistant U.S. attorney and in the state Attorney General’s Office, such as cross-examining Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols.
She also pointed to her experience in interviewing and hiring.
“To me, this job is about leadership; it’s about interacting with the community. And I’ve been building relationships in the community not just through my paid job, but through volunteer work and from other avenues.”
Padden and Maillaro mostly stayed away from directly criticizing each other. But Maillaro said the position requires more trial experience than Padden has.
Maillaro also took issue with Padden’s characterization of George Brauchler’s tenure when she said he has made a “mess” in the district. He said the actions of everyone in the office shouldn’t be lumped together.
“There are 220 people in that office, and I don’t agree with every one of them. Frankly, I don’t know what most of their politics are, because that’s not what we ask about when we do this work for the community,” Maillaro said. They aren’t a mess; those people are dedicated public servants.”
— Julia Cardi