Some in Pueblo are voicing criticism over 10th Judicial District Attorney Jeff Chostner's Decision to hire both his daughter and son-in-law as prosecutors in his office. Yet others told News 5 Investigates they support the couple.
Chostner hired his son-in-law Kyle McCarthy back in 2015 and then brought on daughter Michelle last year. Both were accomplished prosecutors in other counties before coming to work for their dad in Pueblo.
News 5 investigates found that while it is not illegal, hiring relatives is not exactly encouraged either.
The Pueblo County Employment Policy manual indicates that candidates can be rejected for being related to their potential boss without violating state discrimination law.
That policy doesn't seem to have affected the hiring decisions for Chostner and McCarthy. Local retiree Alvin Rivera, well known as a community watchdog, protested the hires.
"There is no place for nepotism to be going on in any county government, any city government, any federal government or any state government," he said.
Attorney Nick Gradisar disagrees. He said Michelle worked for him as a clerk while studying in law school and was hired briefly into the private practice after graduation.
Gradisar said both Michelle and her husband are accomplished attorneys who each took pay cuts to come work in Pueblo.
"Both of them spent maybe 7 or 8 years in the Adams County District Attorney's Office prosecuting cases there and by all accounts they're terrific talented prosecutors and that's what we need in this community," Gradisar said.
In fact, the head of the Colorado District Attorney Council, Tom Raynes, emailed us praising Chostner and McCarthy for their work in the courtroom and as trainers within his organization.
"The Pueblo office is truly fortunate to have these two extremely talented prosecutors and trainers in a single office
as small as the Pueblo office," Raynes wrote.
Pueblo County doesn't spend very much on prosecutor pay. The starting salary of $52,032 for new deputy district attorneys is on par with the pay in neighboring Fremont County. However, it lags behind the $54,000 paid to new deputy district attorneys in La Junta and Colorado Springs.
"They don't pay very well," Gradisar said. "I'm sure that Michelle went to work for the District Attorney's Office for less than she was making in private practice and less that what we offered to pay her."
County Commissioner Sal Pace told us he knows the pay prosecutors is low, but said it's the same for everyone.
"According to market analysis, 988 employees out of a little more than 1,100 here in Pueblo County receive less than what the average market value is," Pace said.
But Rivera doesn't think the level of pay shouldn't matter. He believes the District Attorney has a blind spot when it comes to his kids.
"If you had two people equally qualified and one happened to be his offspring, then who do you think that position would be going to? Whether it's a position, an advancement of salary, it makes no difference."
Following the money, News 5 Investigates found that Kyle was promoted last year and received a raise worth more than $30,000. What more, he was selected for that position of Senior Deputy District Attorney over two of his peers.
In the stack of resumes for Michelle's job, we found an application from an International Special Prosecutor who helped break up an organized crime ring in Kosovo. He too appeared to willing to take a pay cut in order to live closer to family. Other applicants in that stack included experienced prosecutors in Wyoming and New Mexico.
"In government you are to serve the people, not the other way around, not be served by the people," Rivera said. "You are to serve the people."
Still, Gradisar tells us if the people of Pueblo we're really bothered by this, then they wouldn't have voted to re-elect Chostner back in November.
"Why should the people of Pueblo be deprived of these talented prosecutors simply because they're related to the District Attorney's Office."
Jeff Chostner declined an on camera interview for this report saying he believed it was an attempt to malign his family. He sent a statement via text message which reads:
"The hiring of these two individuals was vetted through County HR and County legal. There were no irregularities or violations of county policy or procedure. These hirings are consistent with other State of Colorado District Attorneys offices in other jurisdictions."