A Passion for Justice and Problem Solving-The District Attorney's Office
The mission of the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is to administer justice, advocate for victims, and partner with law enforcement and citizens of this community in the deterrence and prevention of crime.
It’s the Pikes Peak region’s largest – and busiest-- law firm. The 4th Judicial District, headquartered in Colorado Springs, leads the state’s 22 judicial districts in the size of its caseload.
“People are surprised to learn how big we are – and how fiscally conservative, “says District Attorney Dan May of the district encompassing El Paso – Teller Counties. Its $12 million budget, for example is far less than counties like Denver ($22 million), Arapahoe ($20 million) or Adams ($16 million).
At the same time, its workload is greater. Through 2015, for example, May’s office handled more than 34,000 cases, including El Paso County’s heavy felony load. “We had the highest number of felonies in the state last year with 6,000 cases -- more than 5,000 heard in Denver County,” he explains. That was in addition to 3,226 Juvenile Court actions and 8,533 misdemeanors.
May, a Colorado court system veteran, joined the DA’s Office in 1982 as an entry-level prosecutor. Since then he has served as head of Homicide, Vehicular Homicide, Narcotics and served as Chief Trial Attorney and Assistant District Attorney under District Attorneys Bob Russel, John Suthers and Jeanne Smith. He is also one of many judges, magistrates, private practice attorneys and community leaders who got their start in the DA’s office. A few examples: former Colorado Springs Mayor Robert Isaac, former District Judge Steve Pelican, El Pomar Chairman of the Board Bill Hybl and former state senator Peter Susemihl.
Today he manages 78 prosecutors and 140 administrative staff. Their focus: felony crimes and cases involving minors and juveniles. El Paso County and Teller County Courts – both part of the 4th Judicial System -- are responsible for civil cases, misdemeanors, traffic infractions, felony complaints (often sent to District court) and protection orders.
If you learned about courtroom prosecutions watching television dramas like “Perry Mason” or “Law & Order,” you may be surprised to learn that only about 3 percent of cases nationwide actually end up going to trial.
“At least 90 percent of our cases are settled out of court, referred to Mediation and or to [Juvenile] Diversion, Domestic Violence, Human Trafficking or other programs, working with our community partners,” May says, adding that such alternatives have been highly successful. “Eighty-five percent of the kids who complete our Diversion program, as an example, we never see again. We consistently see better outcomes than if we sent young offenders to jail.”
Perhaps that’s why today’s District Attorney’s Office places such emphasis on mentoring and training new prosecutors. Recent law school grads, for example, are required to get to know the community, to spend 20 hours on ride-alongs with police officers, sheriff’s deputies, Colorado Fish & Game wardens or to get acquainted with the County Coroner’s Office. Management prosecutors are also asked to volunteer with groups like the Soup Kitchen, Safe Passage, TESSA and faith based organizations or to coach high school basketball. As part of their professional training, May also requires each new attorney to prosecute at least 15 jury trials. By the time a new prosecutor has been on the job 12 months or so, he or she is expected to have mastered core competencies and to show community leadership skills – both prerequisites for job promotion.
That successful mentorship program, along with May’s confessed passion for justice have distinguished the DA’s Office and brought statewide recognition over the years. And after 34 years as a prosecutor, the former Mitchell High School graduate says he has the best job in the community and is proud to go to work.
“Every day we have a chance to do the right thing. We may not always get the right result, but we will always fight for the right causes.”