DA Chambers sets the record straight

The 18th Judicial District DA, censured this week by a state regulatory panel, sent the following letter to newspaper editors in response to what many of us believe was grossly slanted coverage of the whole matter. - JA By District Attorney Carol Chambers (cchambers@da18.state.co.us)

Dear Editors: When I took office, I made a commitment to do the right thing, the principled thing in any given situation. I took this job because I wanted to improve a criminal justice system in need of a great deal more accountability to our constituents for the things that we do and the money that we spend. Our judges, deputy district attorneys and public defenders are public servants first and foremost and should conduct themselves accordingly. It is my job as the District Attorney to represent the People of the state of Colorado and I never forget that.

Identity theft is rampant in the state of Colorado. We rank 5th in the nation for identity theft related crime. District attorneys along with law enforcement must promptly and aggressively investigate this crime and assist victims whenever they can.

Laurette Barrentine is my constituent, she is a victim of identity theft, she is not my friend. We have both testified to that under oath. When Ms. Barrentine came to me about the case Mr. Steiner had filed against her, she was not concerned about herself, we both knew that she would prevail. She did not write the checks in question and Mr. Steiner could not prove that she did. In fact, Mr. Steiner testified that he offered to dismiss the case against her long before I ever got involved in the matter.

Ms. Barrentine’s concern was for other victims of identity theft who might not have the time, money or confidence to stand alone against a collections attorney trying to coerce them to pay on checks they did not write. Indeed, Mr. Steiner testified that this was the first time anyone had ever taken him to trial or insisted that he pay the court costs associated with defending a case that should never have been filed.

Mr. Steiner’s coercive conduct was concerning to me for several reasons. First, he did nothing to investigate the case against Ms. Barrentine before he filed it. A quick and simple phone call to the bank was all it would have taken for him to know that the account number on the checks was not and never had been her account. Ms. Barrentine told him she was a victim of identity theft and he still did nothing to investigate. He filed a lawsuit he knew he could not prove because he had not and could not endorse witnesses to substantiate the allegations. He threatened Ms. Barrentine with treble damages and misinformed her that even if she were found not guilty, the judge or jury could still make her pay his attorney fees. He emphasized to her that she was not an attorney, did not know what she was doing, and was taking a risk by going to trial instead of just paying the checks. This is behavior that borders on criminal conduct. I do not believe it is my job to stand back and watch criminal conduct occur in any context including civil court proceedings. It is certainly not my job to stand back and watch victims be revictimized in a system designed to administer justice, protect the powerless and ensure that victims of crime are treated with dignity and respect.

Attorney Regulation Counsel appears completely unconcerned about Mr. Steiner’s conduct. The grievance brought against me impeded my ability to investigate his conduct and intervene to protect other victims of identity theft from the same practices he used against Ms. Barrentine to no avail. The opinion by the Hearing Board censuring me for potentially interfering with a pending civil case ensures that other district attorneys will never act to intervene in any case in which a collections attorney may be inappropriately coercing victims of identity theft to pay on checks they did not write. These victims are on their own to face collections attorneys. Needless to say, I am frustrated by this outcome that does not seem in any way to advance the administration of justice.

There has been much written about this and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Very truly yours, Carol Chambers District Attorney 18th Judicial District