A majority of Colorado’s district attorneys–13 of 22–must leave office next January under a term-limit measure upheld yesterday by the state supreme court. The Denver Post says Colorado is the first state to impose such a limit on prosecutors. With the exception of one whose term limits were exempted by voters, the rest must leave office after serving two consecutive four-year terms.
Elected prosecutors and legal experts raised concerns that the term limits will politicize the job of prosecuting criminals, even as it gives their deputies an opportunity to advance by running for election. The decision affirmed a concept that voters had made clear in two elections.
Bob Miller a former state and federal prosecutor, fears that the ruling will destabilize DAs’ offices and drive talented people out of government service. “I was one of those people way back when who thought that term limits were good for all offices,” Miller said. “I’ve changed my mind. I think they are good for none, and I think they are particularly not good for DAs.” In today’s employment market for lawyers, he said, the eight-year limit will discourage many bright lawyers, especially in rural areas, from seeking public office. The talent loss could tilt the courtroom playing field in favor of veteran defense lawyers.
Dennis Polhill of the Colorado Term Limits Coalition said prosecutors should be term-limited because they are elected and in policy-setting positions. “They should be accountable to voters,” he said. “The DAs do set policy. The voters might decide they disagree, and they should be able to change that.”