Attorney General Phil Weiser speaks at a news conference July 12, 2022, at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
The day after Colorado’s attorney general announced an enforceable agreement between his office and that of the San Luis Valley District Attorney Alonzo Payne — following a state investigation that found a pattern of Victim Rights Act violations — Payne resigned from his office.
Under an executive order issued by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday, Attorney General Phil Weiser will serve as interim district attorney in the 12th Judicial District until Payne’s replacement is appointed.
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“Applications for district attorney for the 12th Judicial District may be submitted to [email protected],” a Wednesday statement from Polis’ office said. “Interviews will begin promptly.”
In his own written statement, Weiser, a Democrat, said his office was committed to serving the San Luis Valley “as effectively as possible” in an interim capacity and hoped to set up the new DA for success.
“The people of the San Luis Valley deserve a fresh start with a new district attorney,” Weiser said. “We expect new leadership will improve the important work of the office. Our focus has been to ensure that the DA’s office in the 12th Judicial District complies with the law and treats crime victims with respect and dignity.”
An investigation by the Department of Law found that victims of crimes under Payne’s jurisdiction had not been updated on the status of cases as required under state law, putting some victims’ safety at risk.
The Victim Rights Act requires prosecutors to keep victims informed about their cases and to let them provide input during certain court proceedings, such as sentencing hearings. It also gives victims “the right to be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse throughout the criminal justice process.”
The agreement announced Tuesday between the 12th Judicial District and attorney general’s office requires the district to retain an outside monitor, adopt new policies and implement mandatory staff training. On Tuesday, Weiser said the agreement would remain in place for at least six months if Payne left office.
Had Payne remained in office, he would have been subject to a recall election. On May 26, the Colorado secretary of state’s office announced that a group of San Luis Valley voters had submitted enough valid signatures to force a recall election.
Payne, a Democrat, could not immediately be reached for comment on this story.
In a written statement Thursday, Colorado GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown accused Polis of violating state law in his appointment of Weiser as interim DA — since Weiser apparently does not live in the San Luis Valley, as the law requires of elected or appointed DAs.
“While we know that Weiser is a professor who has never actually tried a case, we would expect that either he or the governor’s lawyers would have read the law prior to announcing this ineligible appointment,” Burton Brown said. Weiser does, in fact, have experience in courtroom litigation, though it is limited.
“Citizens in the San Luis Valley have for too long had a DA who is corrupt and incompetent,” Burton Brown continued. “I believe they deserve a competent DA from the Valley who will fight the Polis-Weiser crime wave, not an ineligible professor from Denver.”
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