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CHAPTER 3: OVERVIEW OF THE COLORADO COURT SYSTEM - Table of Contents

3.1 - Overview of the Colorado Court System3.2 - Overview of the Criminal Justice Program3.3 - Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers3.4 - Overview of the Civil Justice Process3.5 - Plaintiff and Defense Counsel3.6 - State Courts in Boulder County3.7 - Municipal Courts in Boulder County3.8 - Small Claims Courts in Boulder County

3.3 PROSECUTORS AND DEFENSE LAWYERS

As noted above, there are different prosecutors for the different courts. If a person is alleged to have violated a municipal ordinance, he or she will be prosecuted by the municipal prosecutors for that city. In bigger cities, the city attorney's office has a number of lawyers working in it, handling a variety of issues such as zoning, personnel, business licensing and the like. These bigger offices also have lawyers who prosecute cases in municipal courts. Some of the smaller cities do not have enough business to justify having a full-time prosecutor and contract the job of prosecuting out to individual attorneys or law firms. In either event, the city attorney is generally appointed by, or the contracting attorney is selected by, the city council. As for criminal defense attorneys, some cities have their own public defender system, some contract with law firms to provide criminal defense services, and some simply appoint attorneys on an as-needed basis.

In Boulder County, the cities of Boulder and Longmont have city attorney offices that handle the prosecutions in those cities, while Lafayette, Louisville, Nederland and the other cities in the county contract with private lawyers to handle municipal prosecutions. On the defense side, the city of Boulder contracts with the Legal Aid & Defender Program at the C.U. Law School to handle all criminal defense work, while the other cities appoint private lawyers to handle the work.

State court prosecutions in both county court and district court, are handled by the Office of the District Attorney. The district attorney is elected by the citizens of the particular judicial district. A judicial district may contain more than one county. However, the 20th Judicial District consists only of Boulder County, so the district and the county are one and the same. The district attorney, Mary Lacy, hires attorneys, investigators and staff support personnel to enable her to handle all of the criminal cases in the district. The district attorney serves four-year terms and, under Colorado's term limits law, may only serve two terms.

The defense of persons accused of crimes in state court is handled by either a private lawyer who is hired or retained by the person who is charged, or by the Office of Public Defender. In Colorado, the Office of Public Defender is a state-wide system, with the head of the system appointed by an oversight commission made up of citizens appointed by the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. The public defender hires attorneys, investigators and support staff to represent persons charged with crimes who cannot afford to hire their own attorneys. The Office of Public Defender has a regional office to handle Boulder County cases.

Sometimes, the public defender may not be able to represent a particular individual. For example, if there are two defendants charged in the same case, the ethical rules governing lawyers do not allow one office to represent both defendants. In these situations, the trial judge will appoint the Office of Alternate Defense Counsel. This office contracts with private lawyers to provide representation in these cases of conflict with the public defender. These lawyers are experienced criminal defense lawyers who are willing to provide service at a rate far less than their typical hourly rates as part of their service to the profession and the system.

Of course, some people choose to proceed in criminal cases without an attorney. A person who acts as his or her own lawyer is said to be proceeding pro se. A person may proceed pro se because he or she does not believe that an attorney is necessary, or because the court has determined that the person is not eligible for a court-appointed attorney but the person does not wish to pay for an attorney. Some traffic matters are minor enough that many people choose to handle them pro se, but most legal matters are complicated and serious enough that hiring an attorney is a necessity.

In federal court, prosecutions are handled by the United States Attorney. The U.S. Attorney is appointed by the President. The defense of criminal cases in federal court is handled by either retained counsel or the Federal Public Defender. The federal system also experiences conflicts with the federal public defender on occasion, and those conflict cases are handled by attorneys on the Criminal Justice Act panel who have agreed to handle these cases at a set hourly rate.

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