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March 18, 2022 11:00 AM UTC

What Not to Do When You Want to be Attorney General

  • by: Colorado Pols
Holly Kluth and John Kellner

Colorado Republicans looked for a long time for a candidate to run for Attorney General in 2022. They tried to convince 2018 AG loser George Brauchler to run again, but he said no. They tried to convince former Secretary of State Scott Gessler to give it a go, but he declined repeatedly. Ditto for former lawmaker and District Attorney Mark Waller.

It wasn’t until late January that the GOP finally convinced newly-elected District Attorney John Kellner (18th judicial district; Arapahoe and Douglas counties) to run against incumbent Democrat Phil Weiser. Kellner was right to be hesitant about making the leap when you consider that he barely won his 2020 DA’s race against Democrat Amy Padden (Kellner squeaked by with 1,433 more votes than Padden out of more than 573,000 total ballots cast). That lack of political experience is already proving problematic for Kellner’s AG campaign.

Earlier this week, Kellner was the guest of honor at a fundraiser hosted by, among others, former Governor Bill Owens and longtime Republican political operative Sean Tonner. The problem for Kellner here is that both Owens and Tonner are YUGE proponents of a cockamamie scheme to divert water from the San Luis Valley to Metro Denver, and they are known to be trying to grease the wheels for their “buy and dry plan” with campaign contributions. Weiser is on the record opposing this “buy and dry plan,” which has even generated a thumbs-down from Republican Rep. Lauren “Q*Bert” Boebert. By allowing himself to be so publicly-connected to Owens and Tonner, Kellner opens himself up to concerns that he might favor a water grab that would cost him a lot of rural votes in a statewide race.

John Kellner (left) with Bill Owens

This isn’t Kellner’s only problem, of course. The issue that is really going to dog his campaign involves allegations that he is helping to cover up for Holly Kluth, a candidate for Douglas County Sheriff who should be politically radioactive in the law enforcement community. 

As we noted earlier this month, Kluth allegedly purged her official record of the existence of a “Brady letter” in her personal file, which is the type of thing that usually ends the career of someone in law enforcement.

As 9News explains:

Named after the Brady v. Maryland case heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Brady letter is a warning from prosecutors to defense attorneys that explains a law enforcement officer’s credibility may endanger the successful prosecution of cases. Reasons for the letter might include an officer’s untruthfulness or misconduct.

In December, an internal affairs investigation was launched into allegations that Kluth ordered someone in her office to delete the “Brady letter” from her personnel file (Kluth was fired by Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock in 2021 after a separate internal investigation). The “Brady letter” investigation was handled by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Sheriff’s office; it is not uncommon for another jurisdiction to be asked to handle an internal affairs case in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Here’s where it gets sketchy, as 9News reported:

Kluth was found to have violated policy in ordering the deletion of personnel file information that “would be disparaging not only to her personal reputation but also to her campaign to become the next elected Sheriff of Douglas County.” Investigators said Kluth violated four policies: Conformance to Law, Unlawful Orders, Commission of a Deceptive Act, and Removal of Records.

This investigation ended with Jefferson County recommending official misconduct charges to the district attorney’s office. The district attorney in the 18th District, John Kellner, opted not to prosecute the case. [Pols emphasis]

On Wednesday, ProgressNow Colorado released a letter asking the Office of Attorney Regulation at the Colorado Supreme Court to investigate Kellner’s decision to let Kluth skate despite recommendations from a neighboring DA’s office that Kluth be face official misconduct charges. As ProgressNow Colorado Executive Director Sara Loflin explained in a press release:

“Kellner should not have touched this case with a ten-foot-pole, [Pols emphasis] instead he put politics over public safety and needs to be held accountable.”

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for the DA in the 18th judicial district to have trouble holding law enforcement friends accountable. Kellner’s predecessor, George Brauchler, eventually gave up on trying to prosecute former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa (aka, “The Shirtless Sheriff”) on a multitude of charges after his office twice “failed” to get a conviction despite the existence of what seemed to be a pretty thick binder of evidence. We don’t know if Kellner was involved in any of the failed attempts at prosecuting Maketa, but it’s certainly possible given that he worked in Brauchler’s office at the time.

As far as we can tell, Kellner has not commented on why he ignored recommendations from the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office to formally charge Kluth. It probably has nothing to do with the fact that Kluth is someone he knows personally who has donated to his campaigns in the past:

[SIDE NOTE: Kluth’s husband, Arlan Kluth, was also a frequent contributor to Maketa’s campaigns for Sheriff in El Paso County, which is a weird coincidence.]

Kluth is currently in a heated Republican Primary race to become the next Sheriff of Douglas County; the four-person race includes John Anderson, Lora Thomas, and Darren Weekly. As such, we probably haven’t seen the last of this “Brady letter” story — and the worse it gets for Kluth, the more of a problem it becomes for Kellner.

Kellner hasn’t even been in the AG’s race for two months, and already he has two very big problems that he needs Colorado voters to ignore if he hopes to win in November. The water-grab issue is more of a political problem, but the Kluth situation is potentially crippling. It’s tough to run for the top law enforcement position in Colorado while sporting an open wound bleeding out your law and order legitimacy.


2 thoughts on “What Not to Do When You Want to be Attorney General

  1. I'm confused, when financial contributions to Rep. Caraveo for her support of HB21-1317 were raised suggesting personal motive for collaborating with republicans behind closed doors, Pols seemed to think the $1,000s she received from private interest groups was insignificant and berated the thought. 

    Why throw a stink over a measly few hundred bucks? 

    *I'm not at all supporting bribery, but pointing out y'all hypocrites.

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