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Former 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne disbarred

Document: “Respondent did not recognize all the components of being an elected District Attorney"
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Posted at 3:40 PM, Sep 22, 2022

DENVER — Former 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne has agreed to be disbarred without a hearing, agreeing to stipulated facts that he was not ready to handle the position and wasn’t competent to prosecute complicated, felony cases.

Payne’s disbarment will be effective Oct. 26, according to Colorado Supreme Court documents obtained by Denver7 Thursday which were filed this week and signed by Payne and a Colorado disciplinary judge. He agreed to waive the right to a hearing over his disbarment.

Payne resigned on July 13 as he faced a recall election and after Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced an agreement between his office and the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office to bring in an independent monitor to ensure the DA’s Office is complying with the Colorado Crime Victim Rights Act.

Former 12th Judicial District Attorney Alonzo Payne disbarred

Gov. Jared Polis appointed Anne E. Kelly to be the new 12th Judicial District Attorney in late August.

Payne’s disbarment, once it takes effect, means he will no longer be allowed to practice law in Colorado.

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The stipulation related to discipline tied to Payne’s disbarment, which Payne signed and agreed to, details the numerous instances in which Payne and his office failed to adhere to the Colorado Crime Victim Rights Act, failed to communicate with judges, defense attorneys, and victims, dismissed cases at the last minute, and in the cases he did try, failed to get convictions.

“Respondent did not recognize all the components of being an elected District Attorney and now recognizes he was ill-equipped to handle this position, or manage the Office of the District Attorney,” the stipulation says. “…Respondent … only went to trial on a total of five cases during his time as District Attorney. Some of these trials were non-felony matters and involved traffic or misdemeanor offenses. Respondent did not prevail in his trials.”

Payne also admitted he did not prioritize or consider the treatment of victims in crimes, that his office was disrespectful toward them and others, and that he did not have the capabilities to properly handle complicated cases.

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Payne admitted that there is a “significant’ backlog of cases after his resignation and that law enforcement warrants — some involving serious crimes and domestic violence — would sometimes sit idle in his office for months.

“Respondent’s actions caused law enforcement and members of the public to question whether it was worth the time or effort to report crimes because [Payne] and his office often failed to prosecute defendants,” the stipulation states.

The document details Payne and his office’s missteps in several cases. In one VRA case, Payne lied to the victim about an officer not being served to testify at trial, and moved to dismiss the case by saying the victim was unwilling to testify at trial even though they were prepared to testify.

In another case, he dismissed a two-year-old case on the first day it was scheduled for trial and after 100 jurors had already arrived at court for jury selection. Two victims in the case also arrived for court but had not been told the case would be dismissed. Payne admitted to investigators he had not talked with the victims about their testimony or about dismissing the case.

In a 2022 sexual assault on a child case involving a juvenile, Payne improperly submitted hearsay statements and failed to appear at a hearing to address the hearsay statements when the defense objected to them. He then either made false statements or failed to tell the court or the victim and her family accurate information about why he moved to dismiss the case.

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He also misrepresented what a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent said about a case and his motion to dismiss.

Payne admitted his office filed cases before law enforcement investigations were complete hoping for more evidence to arise so prosecutions could continue.

He also charged the former 12th Judicial District Attorney Robert Willett with felony embezzlement in connection with a bonus Willett paid himself after he beat Willett in the primary for the seat. He could have asked an outside law enforcement agency to investigate and a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation but did not.

Eventually, the court appointed the 5th Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum as special prosecutor, and the charge was dropped in the past couple of weeks in exchange for Willett paying back the money, a Colorado District Attorneys' Council spokesperson said.

The stipulation that Payne signed says he failed to competently and diligently prosecute cases and violated most of his duties as district attorney.

“Respondent caused extraordinary harm to victims of crimes, the courts, law enforcement, and the community at large. Respondent caused harm or potential harm to the safety of the community,” the document says. “Respondent caused harm or potential harm to the reputation of lawyers, including prosecutors. Finally, Respondent caused harm or potential harm to the integrity of the legal and criminal justice system.”

Payne did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment on his disbarment Thursday afternoon.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

'It was the best thing for the community': AG Phil Weiser responds to DA resignation in San Luis Valley

Heather Brooks, the Alamosa City Manager who supported and helped initiate the recall effort against Payne, said the city had mixed emotions on Payne’s disbarment.

“Reading the details brings back all the emotions that drove the need to lead a recall effort for the victims, law enforcement, and the community in general – the fear, pain, anger, injustice, and disbelief,” she said in a written statement. “The Order also brings with it a sense of closure and peace knowing that there is no longer a risk to future victims.”

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to show that the court, not Gov. Polis, appointed a special prosecutor in the Willett case and to add information about why the case against Willett was dismissed.