The San Luis Valley gets a new district attorney after months of turmoil in the office

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Highway 285 drops from Poncha Pass down into the north end of the San Luis Valley and Saguache County on Thursday, June 30, 2022.

Gov. Jared Polis appointed a new district attorney for the San Luis Valley on Monday, replacing the former DA who resigned after months of tumult, wrongdoing and a more than 500-case backlog.

Anne E. Kelly will serve as the 12th Judicial District Attorney in Alamosa, at least for the next few months. 

Kelly has had a career in law for nearly 20 years, including work in the private sector and positions in other Colorado judicial districts. Since 2019, she worked at the Boulder DA's office handling serious domestic violence cases. Before that, she worked in Weld County’s 19th Judicial District. 

The 12th District’s former lead prosecutor, Alonzo Payne, resigned in July, one day after the state ordered him to improve the way he and his office treat crime victims.

Kelly said one of her biggest challenges will be to recruit lawyers to work in the rural district to both restore trust and clear the massive case backlog. 

“I think I’ll have a good shot at recruiting because lawyers will come to work for an experienced prosecutor with connections all over the state,” Kelly said.

Aside from the caseload, Kelly said she has a lot of work to tackle in the region.

“The community suffers from poverty and lack of resources,” she said. “The drug pandemic has hit this area really hard. There are people struggling with addiction, struggling with poverty, people who are unhoused. My experience in Boulder has taught me the way to address these kinds of issues is to be really nuanced in how we prosecute.”

Polis announced the appointment on a trip to Alamosa on Monday. 

“An effective prosecutor takes the concerns of law enforcement, commissioners, and victims and works to address them through common-sense problem-solving, and I’m confident that’s what Anne Kelly will do as the new DA for the 12th Judicial District,” Polis said in a statement. 

The previous DA, Payne, resigned after Attorney General Phil Weiser announced an agreement to compel the office to overhaul its victim support services. State officials found several substantiated complaints that both Payne and his staffers belittled, yelled at and failed to effectively support victims in criminal cases. 

The state agreement between the DA’s office and Weiser requires new policies on how to treat victims of crime and families of crime victims. Staff will have to go through training and it will all be checked by an independent monitor, who has not been named. 

Once Kelly is in place as a new DA, that agreement will be in effect for six months, if the office is complying. Kelly described restoring trust in the office as her top priority.

“Restoring trust requires transparency, constant engagement, and implementation of effective systems while prioritizing being accessible to the community including law enforcement, victims, community groups, and defense attorneys,” Kelly said in a statement.

State Attorney General Phil Weiser has been assisting with 12th District prosecutions since Payne resigned. Kelly will begin the position on Sept. 1, and will have to run for election in November.