Editorial: Michael Dougherty is the right fit for Boulder County DA

Let us first be clear what this current race for Boulder County district attorney is about.

It‘s about public safety.

It‘s about the pursuit of justice.

It‘s about the proper expenditure of public money.

It‘s about smartly prosecuting cases over which the office has clear jurisdiction and the backing of the law.

And it‘s about experience, leadership and vision fit for a talented and motivated professional staff.

That‘s why Michael Dougherty is our choice as Boulder district attorney.

The June 26 Democratic primary — which pits Dougherty against state Rep. Mike Foote — will determine who will serve out the last two years of Stan Garnett‘s term and likely longer. This decision is not and should not be a referendum on fracking, as some would have it be.

True, oil and gas development has delivered an environmental threat to Boulder County‘s doorstep, claiming lives not far from here. That‘s been enough to launch a passionate campaign of support for Foote, whom environmental activists view as their champion.

Foote has been a vigorous defender of Colorado residents and of the environment, fighting as a member of the State House of Representatives for laws that will buffer residents from the danger that oil and gas exploration poses. We applaud him for that. But that work is not the deciding factor when it comes to who should lead the Boulder County District Attorney‘s Office.

Dougherty brings with him an impressive resume and glowing endorsements from professionals who know the day-in-and-day-out duties of the job, among them former DA Stan Garnett, whose term Dougherty is completing. He has earned the endorsements of Sheriff Joe Pelle, police associations in Longmont and Boulder, district attorneys along the Front Range, crime victim advocates, and supporters of criminal justice reform. Overwhelmingly, law enforcement professionals back Dougherty.

When Dougherty stepped into the Boulder job in March, he brought unmatched experience, having supervised a staff of 1,300 at the Manhattan DA‘s office in New York; worked for Colorado Attorney General John Suthers; served as assistant DA in Jefferson County; and led a project to review wrongful convictions, which exonerated a man who had served 17 years in prison.

In Boulder, he wasted no time taking charge and setting goals to keep the DA‘s office continually improving — determined to focus on hate crimes, to not forget cold cases, to combat consumer fraud, to address wrongful convictions, to alleviate jail overcrowding by fighting for bond reform and treatment programs for nonviolent offenders, to prosecute environmental crimes.

Dougherty, however, understands that a DA‘s authority to prosecute environmental crimes is limited, and that his office will need to work with state and federal agencies that have the jurisdiction and resources to tackle such cases.

Still, Dougherty — who points out that he has successfully prosecuted environmental crimes — will assign an attorney in the DA‘s office to be dedicated to investigating and prosecuting them.

Given the rhetoric surrounding this race, one would think that Dougherty just arrived from Houston and is on retainer for ExxonMobil, while the hometown Foote does pro bono work for Greenpeace. But the two Boulder residents are remarkably similar in their priorities for the office and in their connection and commitment to Boulder County.

Mike Foote would make a capable DA. He has worked in the office for 14 years, has specialized in white-collar crimes, has focused on juvenile justice and has been “tasked with difficult cases,” as he put it. He is a respected member of the Boulder County community who has dedicated his career to serving fellow citizens.

Since 2012, Foote has represented House District 12 in the Colorado Legislature. There, he learned consensus-building and saw firsthand what it takes to influence state law. Foote correctly notes that effecting legislation is key, as that is what empowers prosecutors. For this reason, Foote — who knows the state Capitol from the inside — can continue to be an especially effective member of DA‘s office. And, we hope, he can take the lead should the DA‘s office need to prosecute an environmental crime, in a DA‘s office led by Michael Dougherty.

This month‘s election stands as the general election for this office. No Republican has held this office in the past 45 years, and the GOP has yet to put forward a candidate in 2018. Unlike previous primaries, unaffiliated voters will receive ballots and can have a say in whom the Democratic Party places on the November ballot. Everyone who can vote, should. Your ballot arrives this week.

A party primary will determine Boulder County‘s next DA, and the job requires a dedicated professional who will protect and serve the public.

“The mission is to do justice,” Dougherty said.

And he is the person to continue that mission.

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