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A conflict brewing since late December 2022 between two government entities was addressed on Wednesday. The county says that it is out of space in the Chaffee County Administration Building at 104 Crestone Avenue and needs the first-floor space currently occupied by the District Attorney’s office, to house county employees.

The Chaffee Board of County Commissioners met with District Attorney Linda Stanley and her staff on March 8 to discuss the relocation of the office. Addressing the BoCC, Stanley on the left, and Mike Hurlbert on the right. Photo by Jan Wondra.

At times testy, the early morning meeting between the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), county staff and 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley’s Office included 25 attendees. It managed to avoid a confrontation that might have ended in the DA’s office suing the county. At issue was not just the space, but how each entity viewed their role in the standoff; landlord, tenant, partner, collaborator — or adversary.

“We called this meeting with the DA’s office to talk about our space constraints here,” said BoCC Chair Keith Baker.

He went on to explain that while the county had been contemplating an addition to the building since before the pandemic, the delays had nearly doubled the cost. “We’re not able to proceed with the building but our space needs didn’t go away,” he concluded. “Our first priority is addressing county needs.”

“There were discussions … that the county was going to do a full buildout that contemplated space for the DA and the sheriff’s office,” explained County Attorney Daniel Tom. “But then that budget was more than double and there was no price guarantee of what the final cost would look like. This is about county needs. The sheriff’s office was directly impacted too … Currently we can’t build out the facility.”

“Based on that, we were directed to look internally to meet our internal needs,” added Tom. “That decision wasn’t truly made until we saw if we could expand across under-used spaces. In December I was directed to give notice to the DA to find new space. That gave them two months until the end of February. to find new space, and we said the county could assist. But during that time we got no communications until Feb. 28 when I received a communication from Linda Stanley that they weren’t going to leave, and that we should proceed with eviction.”

“I  think this meeting is about figuring out a middle ground,” said Tom. “I don’t believe the county wants to go through an eviction process. We need to find a way to meet their needs and for us to find a way to grow.”

“It should go without saying that we’re looking for a win-win here,” confirmed Baker. “We don’t want to interfere with the smooth operation of our judicial system – we need to find some sort of equitable solution to uphold our regulatory and statutory duties.”

“I agreed you need to address your county needs; one of those is the need to address prosecuting cases. When Mr. Tom sent me that letter, he did not say where we were going to be going. I never got that,” said Stanley. “I waited, and in February I asked – ‘where are we going?’ The statutes say that there has to be office space provided. I’ll go – but where are we going?”

While Stanley agreed that the space “doesn’t have to be here in the building,” she added, “We don’t want to talk about anybody’s sex assault case in a Starbucks.”

Chaffee County Detention Facility is located adjacent to Chaffee County Courthouse on Crestone Avenue in Salida. Photo by Merrell Bergin

Stanley said that her office needs to be near the courthouse. She reminded the BoCC that the DA has no office in the court building and there is only one jury room, making it a challenge to meet speedy trial deadlines. Not only does her staff regularly meet with victims, but they also need evidence storage, and often have large exhibits or video screens. “We need to be in a location where we can take those items over to the court,” said Stanley, adding “The buildings haven’t been added on to for quite some time.”

“It’s simply too expensive right now and we’re not going to do it,” said Commissioner P.T. Wood bluntly. “That’s aside from what we’re talking about. Let’s talk about your office.”

Chaffee County staff confirmed that there is a $10,000 budget line item allocated for moving the DA’s office.

Stanley asked former Eagle County DA Mark Hurlbert (working with her office) to provide a perspective on moving of District Attorney offices.

“In Eagle and Summit counties we had to move,” said Hurlbert. “In Eagle, the sheriff moved into our space. In Summit it was the sheriff’s office, in Clear Creek we had a 100-year-old house. In Eagle, they built us a building next door. In Summit and Clear Creek, they bought a building across the street. In Summit they rented a building about a mile away and gave us a room in the courthouse.”

Hurlbert said that while he was Asst. DA in Arapahoe and Douglas counties, the county found them two buildings but since it was a ways away from the courthouse, they had a room at the courthouse, adding “when the counties were deciding they went out and did it. They didn’t leave it to the DA’s office… there is price negotiations that are to be considered.”

Tom said according to Colorado statute, there is only one obligation of a county to the District Attorney’s office, “‘To pay necessary expenses for an office.’ It does not say reasonable. It does not say close to court. That is nice, but not a requirement. I do believe some counties have assisted the DA’s office but we don’t know what you need. Think of saying ‘buy me a car;’. What kind? I am unaware of what you need and what you want.”

Stanley responded, saying the statute has been challenged and that reasonable and necessary expenses do include office space. She disagreed that it was her job or her staff’s job to find it. She pushed back on the county’s stated need for more space saying, “Case law says that here in Colorado the county has to find us another space. I understand that — but  why does it have to be our space, can’t you find spaces for some of your staff needs?”

“I will say to illustrate the space needs, I’ve been a commissioner for two months and I just got an office last week,” said Wood.

Tom reminded the group that he spent a decade in a District Attorney office and that he knew for a fact that there are available office spaces in Salida and on U.S. 50. He added that the county gave the DA two months time from December through February, “when we could have worked with you to find a space —  we could have worked together – we have to come to some agreement on working out the overall budget, there were opportunities there when we would have been happy to help, but there was a standoff of silence when we were waiting for your office to respond.”

The entire DA office personnel attended the meeting, as well as several members of law enforcement. Photo by Jan Wondra.

Stanley said the only notice she got was, “you need to get out by this date.”

“You need to run your office and work with other entities to find space,” responded Wood. “You can’t just blow off this stuff and expect us to do your work.”

“I didn’t at all – he didn’t say that we would work together – he just said leave,” retorted Stanley.

“Bob [Christiansen] is one floor up,” shot back Tom. “This isn’t anti-law enforcement, anti-district attorney.  I cut my teeth as a prosecutor for over a decade. So this is not about not supporting law enforcement. We are directing you to find some space because we serve the county on a daily basis … it’s how we go forward from here. We need to know what that looks like, how many offices do you need? Do you need a conference room? How close do you want to be [to the court] … We could have had that conversation a month ago!”

Once again Hurlbert calmed down the room saying “So we know we need to talk …”

Baker reminded the room that the District 11 counties procedurally need to communicate their course of action. “We do have a duty to inform them of what is going on, then we negotiate some arrangement with them whatever the outcome of today’s meeting”

“We have no way of knowing what you need. I met with a real estate agent this morning and came away feeling there is adequate space,” said Commissioner Greg Felt. “Do you want us to go find a space and you get what you get? Do you want to go find a space that fits your needs?  Anything we identify is going to need some modifications, but if I’d received the letter you did I’d have been calling Daniel [Tom] on December 29. The way we’re going to resolve this is we’re going to put you in new space. Do you want to participate or not?”

In the end, Stanley agreed for one of her local staff to become the point person for her office and to provide the general parameters for space. She immediately ticked off “We need three offices,  there are six to seven people in the office at a time, a secured entrance …”  The county agreed to work on identifying potential spaces based on that information and with the new county administrator in process, is delaying by a few weeks their designated point person.

The county also softened its tone, with Felt commenting “We know about the situation at the courthouse. It’s reasonable that in future work on the courthouse, we create space there.”