BY FREDA MIKLIN
Republican candidate for Attorney General (AG) and current 18th Judicial District Attorney (DA) John Kellner was the featured speaker at the regular meeting of the Arapahoe County Republican Breakfast Club on April 6 at Maggiano’s DTC.
He told listeners about a 20-year-old man his office prosecuted for trying to set the Aurora Municipal Courthouse on fire by throwing lighted commercial-grade fireworks into the building after breaking out windows during the summer of 2020. The perpetrator was charged with five counts, eventually pled guilty to two, and was sentenced to six years in prison, as well as being ordered to pay the City of Aurora over $74,000 in restitution for the damage to the building. He compared it to the case of the unlicensed security guard who shot and killed a man in Denver in October 2020 at a political rally that drew opposing demonstrators. In that case, the Denver DA’s office declined to prosecute the security guard because they didn’t think they could overcome the shooter’s claims of self-defense. Kellner told the GOP crowd, “We, in the 18th Judicial District, stand for the rule of law, and when people break that sacred trust…we hold them accountable.” Later, when an audience member asked Kellner the name of the perpetrator, Kellner responded politely, “Why do you want to know?” After a short exchange, he told the person asking that he does not give out perpetrators’ names because, as a prosecutor, he always hopes that those convicted will be rehabilitated and live a better life, and he did not wish to diminish that possibility by putting his name out publicly.
Explaining that when he was elected as 18th Judicial District Attorney in December 2020 (the election was in November but it took a recount to determine that he had bested Democrat Amy Padden by 1,400 votes out of 573,359 ballots cast), he had no plans to run for another office, but last year, as crime rates were rising in our state, he found himself testifying at the general assembly on important issues involving crime. The Attorney General, Phil Weiser, was not there. Kellner felt that as the numbers of murders and fentanyl poisonings throughout our state continued to go up, there was no leadership shown by the Attorney General in dealing with these problems.
In 2019, he said, the legislature proposed to reduce the possession of many drugs, including heroin, meth, cocaine and fentanyl, to a misdemeanor offense, resulting in those found in possession of those drugs not getting incarcerated while awaiting trial on the charges. Despite objections from law enforcement and some DAs, including Kellner, but not the Attorney General, who “was MIA,” the law was passed. “Two years later, we’re near the top in the country, for fentanyl overdose deaths,” said Kellner. He criticized Gov. Polis’ $113 million pro-public safety package introduced in February, saying it was comprised of “short-term grant funding with no real aim,” that contained “no measure of success” and “no accountability.”
With 850 Coloradans dying last year from fentanyl overdoses, compared to 500 in 2020 and 220 in 2019, Kellner said the bill recently introduced in the legislature to address the problem doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t “meet the moment of this crisis,” he explained, because it doesn’t change the drug possession charges that were reduced to misdemeanors, back to felonies. Today, as in 2019, current Colorado Attorney General Weiser has not taken a public position on this issue, Kellner reported
Kellner talked about his office’s data transparency dashboard, da18.org. that lists cases filed in the 18th Judicial District by the date, criminal charge, and law enforcement department from which it originated (no names). It is an up-to-date and transparent look at crimes charged in the community. There are other dashboards that give composite data on sentences issued, as well. Kellner said, “Everything that we can put out there publicly, we do,” adding that that is not the case with the Attorney General’s office.
Kellner also addressed the 2,500 cases that have been reported to be in limbo in the Aurora Police Department, saying his office is looking into it.
Pointing to the fact that the Attorney General is not generally involved with prosecuting crime, Kellner said the office should still be “a voice for public safety,” and he intends to be one if elected to the job. Also, the AG can always take over a criminal case if the governor asks him or her to do so, Kellner pointed out.
It has been reported that Colorado paid out $100 million in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims during the pandemic. “Prosecuting consumer fraud from the state trust fund,” is “squarely in the Attorney General’s camp,” said Kellner. When Kellner asked publicly where the prosecutions for stealing from the unemployment insurance trust fund were, according to Kellner, Weiser reported that his office had referred 17 cases to prosecutors around the state. “That is not getting the job done,” said the candidate. Aurora City Council Member Danielle Jurinsky, who owns four restaurants and bars, stood up to say that her unemployment insurance rates as a small business owner had gone up by many multiples due to the depletion of the state unemployment insurance trust fund, including the significant fraud.
When a person in the audience asked the candidate if, as DA, he was going to investigate “election integrity in Arapahoe County,” Kellner didn’t give the questioner the answer he was seeking. He said that he had a chance to “watch every bit of that process” in 2020 while his race was being subjected to a recount, including with the use of Dominion voting machines. Kellner’s answer to the audience member was, “The total number of discrepancies in over 573,000 ballots, was eight votes…In Arapahoe County, they do a tremendously professional job with the ballots and I’m confident of the results there.”
Elected officials in the audience to hear their DA included Don Sheehan, Rick Holt and Robyn Carnes from the Centennial City Council, along with Dustin Zvonek and Danielle Jurinsky from the Aurora City Council, along with Jeff Baker, Arapahoe County Commissioner.
The room was full of election hopefuls, including Deborah Flora (U.S. Senate), Stephanie Hancock (HD41), Tom Kim (SD27), Jason Presley and Mark Gotto (Arapahoe County Commissioner District Two), Bob Andrews (County Assessor), Marcia Berzins (County Treasurer), Kevin Edley (County Sheriff), Le Sellers (HD40), Rich Sokol (South Metro Fire Rescue) and Kathy Turley (South Suburban Parks & Rec).