By Owen Woods | email@example.com
ANNE Kelly heard the call.
“You came together and your voices were loud and they were clear that you wanted change, they were loud and they were clear that you weren’t going to put up with what was going on,” she said Monday, following her appointment as the new 12th Judicial District Attorney by Gov. Jared Polis. “And I can tell you that your resilience and your courage to change what was going on is what really inspired me to come and work with you, to make that change and be a leader in that change.”
With experience in 18th, 19th, and 20th Judicial Districts under both Democratic and Republican district attorneys, Kelly will assume the district attorney duties of the 12th Judicial District beginning Sept. 1 and will serve through November.
Alonzo Payne‘s resignation puts the seat back on the ballot in the next general election, which is November 8, 2022. Both parties have until Sept. 9 to nominate candidates. After the November election, the seat is up for regular election on the usual timing in 2024.
Her appointment from Polis puts an end to a year-long controversy that saw the DA office under investigation by the state and the eventual resignation of Payne.
“I am honored to be selected for this role and my top priority is to restore trust in the Office of the District Attorney and the criminal justice system. Restoring trust requires transparency, constant engagement, and implementation of effective systems while prioritizing being accessible to the community including law enforcement, victims, community groups, and defense attorneys,” said Kelly.
Polis arrived in Alamosa on Monday to make the announcement and was flanked by Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson, Monte Vista Police Chief George Dingfelder, Alamosa Police Chief Ken Anderson, and State Sen. Cleave Simpson.
“Having a strong prosecutor team in place is absolutely essential to making our communities safe, and I know it’s been challenging here in Alamosa, in Conejos and Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache,” Polis said.
“Really, Colorado is all about making sure people have the opportunity to have their voices heard and that’s exactly what the people of San Luis Valley did when they felt their concerns were not being treated with respect,” he said. “And a responsible government takes the concerns of its people and works to address them through problem solving. And that’s what we’ve set about to do through this thoughtful, thorough process.”
Kelly most recently served as senior deputy district attorney for the 20th Judicial District, which serves Boulder County. She’s been “on loan” from there for several weeks, Polis said, and during that time has garnered firsthand experience in 12th Judicial District and the Valley.
Kelly started her law career more than 20 years ago, working in the private sector before coming into public service. Polis commended her work through the judicial district offices she’s been a part of, and noted that her work as a prosecutor touched on serious crimes and offenses such as homicides, sexual assaults, fraud, and domestic violence.
“Anne Kelly is a strong prosecutor who is especially passionate about ensuring that victims of crime are treated with the utmost dignity and respect,” said Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council. He noted that among her achievements was starting the nationally recognized Domestic Violence Acute Response Team in the 20th Judicial District.
“I feel confident, I believe the governor and his panel did their due diligence in making sure that we have someone who’s going to be responsible to the citizens here in the San Luis Valley,” said Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman. “I’m very hopeful and it really took the entire San Luis Valley community to bring about this needed change. And I really want to thank all of them for all of their efforts and the courage they had to make sure this came about.”
‘This Valley has been in a crisis of trust’
Kelly, in her initial remarks, gave some insight into why she applied for the job.
“This Valley has been in a crisis of trust, this Valley has endured a crisis of trust, but what’s most extraordinary to me is what this Valley did about it. You didn’t just sit back and say ‘well, that’s the way things go,’” she said.
Kelly’s commitment to victims and their rights was apparent. In a clear response to the concerns leveled against Payne and the DA office, she said, “Victims of crime deserve dignity and respect.” She also said that they deserve to be listened to and to have compassion, understanding, and patience in response to their enduring trauma.
“They deserve to be an active part of the criminal justice process,” she said. “Dignity and respect for victims is a personally and deeply held belief of mine, and our office is committed to bringing that to the Valley.”
Kelly’s appointment comes less than two months after Payne resigned on July 13. His office was at the front of two separate complaints of abuses of Colorado’s Victim Rights Act and a six-county recall effort.
“Anne Kelly’s great, she’s gonna be a good district attorney moving forward for the San Luis Valley. We need to continue making sure that victims are heard, but also the processes in play and how we continue to fund the office and making sure she has the resources moving forward,” said Colorado State Rep. Donald Valdez.
Alamosa County Commissioner Lori Laske said, “I’m really excited for the opportunity for the district to move forward. Seeing that this new energy and this commitment of the safety of this district, and taking care of our victims is very important. I’m glad to have this coming in and I think it’s definitely going to be a positive thing and we’re moving forward.”
Boulder District Attorney and current CDAC President Michael Dougherty applauded the appointment. “Anne will be an outstanding leader and district attorney for the 12th Judicial District and all of its citizens. The San Luis Valley is gaining an extremely experienced, talented, and dedicated prosecutor.”
NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Kelly will serve until 2024, the remainder Payne’s term.