Following the largest gathering to date of people involved in plans to potentially split up the 18th Judicial District, State Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, closed a Jan. 30 stakeholder meeting with …
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Following the largest gathering to date of people involved in plans to potentially split up the 18th Judicial District, State Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, closed a Jan. 30 stakeholder meeting with the revelation he no longer plans to sponsor legislation in 2019 that would create a 23rd Judicial District.
Representatives from Arapahoe, Douglas and Elbert counties, among other sectors of what is currently the 18th Judicial District, met Jan. 30 to discuss issues involved in creating Colorado's newest judicial district in decades.
Lincoln County commissioners were not able to attend because of their regularly scheduled commissioners' meeting that afternoon.
“At this point, I don't believe that I'm going to be introducing a bill,” Weissman told Colorado Community Media of the 2019 legislative session. He ended the stakeholder meeting by telling attendees “it's feeling to me like this is too rushed.”
Weissman led the gathering and in his opening remarks repeated his earlier stance on considering a bill, saying “if we're going to do this, we're going to do it carefully and we're going to do it right.”
The 18th Judicial District comprises Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. Weissman was looking into a bill that would make Arapahoe County its own judicial district and place Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties into another.
While some officials said now is an opportune time to pursue breaking up the district, Arapahoe County Commissioners at the Jan. 30 meeting said the issue is too complex to push through quickly and urged stakeholders to take their time in considering the matter.
A bill has not been drafted and wasn't expected to be introduced for at least a couple weeks, if at all in the 2019 legislative session. An analysis from the Secretary of State's office found if a bill isn't passed in the 2019 session, a new district attorney for a 23rd Judicial District might not be elected until 2024.
"Just because it may not be possible in the short time that we have in this particular legislative session," Weissman said, "doesn't mean that we should stop considering it altogether."
Douglas County began researching the issue in August and produced a financial report that shows the county pays for 33 percent of the district's costs but receives 20 percent of resources.
The 18th Judicial District is the state's most populous. Weissman said its population has grown by more than 550 percent since 1970. Douglas County's report also noted the disbursement of serious crime in the district. Most felonies are in Arapahoe County, meaning more prosecutors and manpower are allocated there.
“There might not be a better time than now,” said Douglas County Attorney Lance Ingalls. “Why is four years from now substantially better?”
The process for creating a new judicial district is laid out by the state Constitution and requires a bill pass with a two-thirds supermajority vote.
Arapahoe County Commissioners Nancy Sharpe, Kathleen Conti and Nancy Jackson said they weren't in opposition to the proposal but raised red flags about pushing it in 2019.
Sharpe said Arapahoe County was open to discussing the concerns voiced by Douglas County in its report. Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas has said based on the county's report, it's clear Douglas is not receiving a fair amount of resources from the judicial district in comparison to its contribution to the budget.
Conti suggested re-examining how counties' contributions to the district's budget, now based on population, are calculated, and how resources are allocated.
“If that could be a simplistic solution to the problem, we would be extremely open to that,” she said.
Arnold Hanuman, deputy director of the Colorado District Attorney's Council, said the CDAC supports the concept of splitting the 18th Judicial District for numerous reasons but if it were to pursue a new formula for allocating resources and costs, the “CDCA as a whole may have to go back and look at our position, because that would affect other districts.”
Conti also said waiting to elect a new district attorney until 2024 could provide an adequate study period for setting up a new district. All three commissioners said the cost of transitioning the 18th Judicial District from one to two districts could be cumbersome.
“The back of the napkin estimate right now is $3 million,” Conti said.
Weissman said he considered sponsoring the bill in 2019 after learning other officials in the district were also interested in breaking the 18th up. The idea has been discussed at various points in past years, according to attendees at the stakeholder meeting, but gained traction after Weissman and three other legislators showed interest in sponsoring a bill.
It remains unclear what the bill's future may be, whether other legislators would consider introducing it and if so when. For now, dividing the 18th Judicial District remains an idea.
“I think one of the biggest concerns is not whether to go forward,” Jackson said, “it is sort of how and at what speed.”
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