Bill being discussed in Colorado Legislature would push for more accountability for prosecutors but comes with a heavy price tag

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Colorado Legislature is analyzing a bill that would put more accountability onto prosecutors as a continuation of a bill passed last summer about police accountability. As it’s currently written, the bill would task counties with finding the funding to implement the measures.

Matt Karzen, district attorney for Colorado’s 14th Judicial District, which includes Routt County, said the bill also would add “unnecessary mandates,” which are already in place.

“To be clear, I am a strong proponent of accountability for prosecutors and law enforcement, and indeed, I am a strong supporter of appropriate and effective reforms in many areas of criminal justice,” Karzen wrote in a letter to the Routt County Board of Commissioners. “However, this particular bill is fraught with unnecessary mandates already in place through other rules and laws already applicable to prosecutors.”

The bill, which has not yet been officially brought up in the legislature, would impose civil liability on prosecutors for violations and mandates a “zero mistake” environment for prosecutors’ offices and could lead to expensive litigation behind each mistake, Karzen said.

In addition to leaving little room for error for prosecutors, Karzen said the bill would likely come with a heavy price tag, which he estimated to be between $100,000 and $200,000 each year. Karzen said his office would likely see a “sharp increase” in civil lawsuits in addition to its normal caseload, which could potentially require hiring more prosecutors to deal with the normal caseload.

Karzen emphasized he is supportive of sensible accountability measures for police and prosecutors, but he said he believes this particular bill would cost too much to enforce measures already in place.

“I am supportive of sensible and effective measures that ensure proper accountability for those of us charged with exercising the powers of the government,” Karzen said. “However, the proposed legislation suffers from many flaws … substantively, it does nothing new, and it is one giant, unfunded mandate and would increase this office’s budget needs.”

Routt County commissioners said they supported criminal justice reform and accountability, but they expressed concern over where the money would come from to fund the new rules.

“It’s easy to identify a problem, but it’s not always easy to find the funding to fix the problem,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond. “I don’t think there’s anyone that has a problem with accountability, but if we’re going to go down this road, it has to have measurable effects if we’re going to spend the money and time on something like this.”

Commissioner Beth Melton said the county should always try to find money to support criminal justice system accountability, but the impacts on taxpayers also needed to be considered.

“It’s never OK to say that we can’t afford accountability so we can’t do it, but that being said, one of our jobs is to be aware of the fiscal impacts to taxpayers of these types of bills and make sure the folks at the legislature are aware of those fiscal impacts.” Melton said. “Accountability is important. It’s really just a question of how can we achieve accountability and minimize the burden and the cost of making that happen.”

Redmond and Melton also said that because Routt County shares funding of the district attorney’s office with Grand and Moffat counties, negotiating extra funding could be difficult and something state legislatures may not have considered.

“The conversation we’ve been having is just making sure everyone understands what the fiscal impacts are and who’s going to pay for this,” Melton said.

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