A Last-Minute Look at Denver’s District Attorney Candidates

By London Lyle

Denver district attorney candidates John Walsh and Leora Joseph will face off in the June 25 Democratic primary election.

With no Republican challengers, the winner will go on to run unopposed in November. Current DA Beth McCann, who has endorsed Walsh, will step down in January. This primary is crucial for voters as the DA significantly influences the legal system, especially in prosecuting crimes and protecting victims’ rights.

John Walsh. Photo courtesy of Walsh for Denver

Walsh, a Denver resident since he was 12, previously served as a U.S. attorney under the Obama administration. He highlights three key reasons for his candidacy: his extensive experience running a large prosecution office, his deep roots and understanding of Denver’s community, and his ability to unite stakeholders for effective action. Walsh is endorsed by all living former Denver DAs, as well as the DAs of Boulder, Adams County and Pueblo.

Walsh said he would focus on building upon McCann’s work, including expanding drug courts. “I think it’s extremely important that we recognize that the incoming DA is not going to be in a position to hire a bunch of new people. It’s also not possible to shift budget out of the DA’s office to mental health beds,” he said. 

Walsh aims to address Denver’s car theft and gun crime issues, drawing on his personal experience from the Aurora movie theater and Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings. He has actively supported gun control measures, and he is in favor of strengthening drug courts and establishing safe injection sites.

“We need to be thoughtful and aggressive about enforcing gun crime laws,” Walsh said. “Colorado has moved in the right direction as a state, but there’s more work to be done.”

“But we also need to acknowledge that completely restructuring the office is not the way to go about it,” Walsh asserted. “It’s not even going to be possible in the first few months.”

Leora Joseph. Photo courtesy of Leora for District Attorney

Joseph, originally from Boston, has a background in prosecuting sexual assault and sex crimes, having worked in DA offices in Boston and Arapahoe County. She is currently involved in reforming court handling of severe mental illness cases under Gov. Jared Polis. Endorsed by the Denver Police Department and several U.S. Congress members, Joseph said she would prioritize mental health courts but opposes expanding drug courts and safe injection sites.

“I’m a big believer in specialty courts when the data supports that they work. When you look at mental health courts in Colorado, called competency courts, we’re seeing some unbelievable results,” she explained. “As for drug courts, the recidivism rates are high. A metric of safety we don’t talk enough about is recidivism. The [drug court] recidivism numbers teach us that we’re not issuing the right consequences because they aren’t working.”

Joseph’s platform focuses on accountability for crimes, pathways to treatment and community engagement. She advocates for a rapid, radical transformation in the DA’s office, including hiring community liaisons and increasing transparency.

“We really need to see a rapid, radical transformation to the ways the prosecutor’s office operates. It can’t just be behind closed courthouse doors. I plan to hire people from the community working in the office,” she said. “I need a liaison to the public schools. These are the kinds of things I think a high-functioning district attorney’s office is doing.”

Both candidates bring distinct perspectives and priorities, with Walsh focusing on continuity and targeted enhancements, and Joseph advocating for comprehensive reforms and a refreshed approach. Denver voters will decide on June 25 who will lead the district’s legal system into the future.

Ballots for the primary, which were mailed to voters the week of June 3, can be cast until June 25. Ballots sent via USPS should be mailed by June 17 in order to arrive in time. Collection boxes and in-person voting centers are open through June 25. Registration to receive a ballot by mail ends June 17. 

Visit denvervotes.org for voting center locations and hours and a map of drop-off boxes.

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