As we noted last week, Maketa somehow skated on all seven charges related to official misconduct and witness tampering dating back to his controversial tenure as Sheriff in the most staunchly-conservative county in Colorado. Maketa’s alleged crimes are numerous and well-documented, which is why many political observers in Colorado were more than a little surprised to see him escape penalty in a trial that wrapped up last week. Jurors deadlocked on four of the charges against Maketa, which creates a significant problem for Arapahoe County District Attorney — and candidate for Governor — George Brauchler.
As Lance Benzel reports for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman:
In failing to resolve the criminal case against ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, a District Court jury forced a dilemma on a candidate for governor.
A veteran political observer says the decision on whether to retry the embattled lawman on four remaining counts could have political costs for Republican gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler, who leads the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case.
If Brauchler’s office decides to drop Maketa’s charges, Brauchler could be accused of letting a fellow Republican skate on sweeping allegations of corruption.
If his office pushes for a new trial, he could alienate parts of the Republican base in El Paso County, where Maketa has his sympathizers.
“It’s a media disaster,” said Bob Loevy, a retired Colorado College political science professor and longtime political analyst in El Paso County. “To have this stretch into the gubernatorial primary and then possibly the general election in 2018, the Republican Party doesn’t need that at all, not in its most significant county.”
El Paso County boasts more Republicans than any county in the state. Although it doesn’t always have the numbers to sway a general election, it does have the potential to decide which Republican makes it past the primary, Loevy said.
Regardless of whether or not Maketa faces a new trial, Brauchler has already incurred heavy damage because it fuels the perception that he seems to come up short in high-profile court cases. The Maketa case was handled by Brauchler’s office because the El Paso County DA was conflicted out of handing the charges directly. Brauchler chose Mark Hurlbert — yes the same Hurlbert who infamously tried to prosecute basketball star Kobe Bryant many years ago — to handle the Maketa case, and now he’s going to have to get even more involved than he would have liked:
Brauchler did not personally prosecute the Maketa case, which ended in a partial mistrial last week when a jury acquitted the former three-term sheriff on three counts and failed to reach a verdict on four others.
But he will be personally involved in the decision whether to retry Maketa, lead prosecutor Mark Hurlbert said after the verdicts. [Pols emphasis]
Brauchler has been facing criticism from fellow Republican gubernatorial candidates about his decision to run for Governor while still working full-time as the DA in the 18th Judicial District, and the Maketa trial puts a new spotlight on that controversy.
Is Brauchler doing a disservice to the people of Arapahoe County, and now El Paso County, by trying to tackle two full-time jobs at once? It was an inevitable problem for Brauchler anyway, but there are now some very real — and very public — consequences for his decision. It’s difficult to convince voters that you should lead the state as Governor when your opponents can make a solid case that you’ve been asleep at the wheel in your current position.