When 7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller has a point to make it usually arrives on target. The chief prosecutor made quite a few during his recent presentation to The Forum, in Montrose. His purpose was to explain the variety of challenges facing our regional criminal justice system
Hotsenpiller began with a rhetorical question. “So what are we? What’s the District Attorney’s Office? I think there’s a lot of misconception about who we are and what our authority is, what the scope of our responsibilities is.
“First of all, we are not state employees”, he continued. “I don’t work for the state. But I represent the people of Colorado in criminal courts.
“We’re not county employees. So what are we? Well, it’s an independent elected office, constitutionally created.” Hotsenpiller will finish his second term this year. “The terms are four years, with a two term limit. So, essentially, your district attorney can work for eight years. My own personal opinion is that isn’t long enough to find out where the keys to the restrooms are,” he chuckled.
“We’re in the 7th Judicial District. I am not the Montrose District Attorney. I am not the Delta District attorney. I am the District Attorney for the 7th Judicial District. That includes six counties (Montrose, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison, San Miguel, and Hinsdale). We cover a lot of ground and have four offices in Delta, Gunnison, Montrose, and Telluride. “We cover some 9,500 square miles. We’re bigger than some states. We really are a small tribe in a big wilderness, doing a really big job.”
Employment is a problem. “When we’re fully staffed—which we rarely are—we have 33 total employees; 27 are full-time, and six are part-time. And, when we’re fully staffed, we have 14 lawyers, including me.”
It’s rare for them to be at full strength, he added. “We’re not currently fully staffed; we’re down one attorney, and we going to lose another attorney in a couple of weeks. That’s our typical operating mode.” Hotsenpiller explained that it’s difficult to recruit professional staff in the 7th Judicial District. The pay is on the low side. In fact, public defenders generally earn more than assistant district attorneys in the 7th.
As you may imagine, the caseload is on the heavy side. “I’m only going to focus on two types of cases today, felonies and misdemeanors,” Hotsenpiller continued. “If you look at our total number of cases, including juvenile and traffic cases, its over 5,900. We handle about 6,000 cases every year.”
Hotsenpiller talked about an upward trend of felonies, i.e. cases in which a person might go to prison. “Take a look at our felony numbers. Last year, we filed over a thousand in the 7th Judicial District. In Montrose alone, we filed 520 in the calendar year 2018. This represents a 66% increase in felony filings in the 7th Judicial District over the last five years.” Hotsenpiller said that there is nothing unusual about the District’s rising numbers. “This is going on across Colorado; in fact, our increases are almost identical to the statewide numbers.”
Misdemeanors filed in the 7th have increased 17 percent over the same period of time.
The Montrose Monitor will address the 7th Judicial District’s financial challenges in our next edition.