Hot Sulphur Springs " Conversation with … Elizabeth Oldham, candidate for district attorney
July 22, 2008
Elizabeth “Liz” Oldham has been the Chief Deputy District Attorney for the 14th Judicial District for about a year and was recently was promoted to Assistant DA.
She is running as a candidate to become the new DA in this November’s election. Current DA Bonnie Roesink is retiring at the end of this year.
The daughter of a U.S. Army chaplain, Oldham grew up living on a variety of Army posts across the nation as well as spending a few years in Germany.
However, all of her adult life has been spent in Colorado. She was awarded an undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder before going on to earn a law degree from the University of Denver in 1997.
After working for a civil law firm in Denver for three years, Oldham joined the District Attorney’s Office for the 14th Judicial District. She has served in its Summit and Grand County offices for the past seven years.
Elizabeth is married to Kirk Oldham, who is the District Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Grand County.
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In a few spare minutes between cases at the Hot Sulphur Springs courthouse this week, Oldham agreed to answer some questions about her career and what she hopes to accomplish with the DA’s office.
Why did you decide to become a prosecuting attorney for the DA’s office?
When I was in law school, I wanted to work in international law because I loved living overseas, especially in Germany, when I was growing up. But while at DU, I got the chance to be an intern at the Denver DA’s office and I just loved it.
After working for three years in civil law after getting my degree, my husband and I decided that we really wanted to live in the mountains. Once he found a position with the DOW here on the Western Slope, I started work with the Grand County DA’s office.
What do you like about working as a prosecuting attorney?
Being a DA is a very fulfilling job. It’s not just about getting convictions, but working to make this community safe. I personally feel very gratified to bring about justice for the victims of crime. And believe it or not, it’s also about helping the offenders and getting them the treatment they need to overcome their behavior.
Another gratifying thing about working for the DA’s office is working with other district attorneys around the state. We have regular contacts and conferences with one another where we bounce ideas off one another. It’s a great community feeling.
How do you approach a case that you plan to prosecute?
At the DA’s office, we try to be fair with everyone involved in a case. After getting all the facts, I personally have to be convinced of the defendant’s guilt before I go forward with a case. It’s an ethical obligation. If I don’t feel I can prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, I can’t prosecute it.
Sometimes that’s tricky. There have been cases where I feel that the defendant has committed a crime, but I just can’t prove it and I can’t go forward.
As the DA, I’m required to have the highest burden of proof. But I think that’s the way it should be because people often go to prison if they are convicted for a crime. It’s good that I have that burden of proof when it comes to a person’s life.
How do you feel when you win a case and a guilty verdict is handed down?
It depends upon the case. If it’s a conviction for a serious crime, I have a sense of relief that the right thing was done. In other cases, it’s just good to know that justice was done. I feel the loss of case even more emotionally, not just out of personal disappointment but because I really felt that justice was not done. There are cases that I’ve won and lost that will stay with me forever.
What is the hardest thing about your job as a DA?
It’s when I don’t get a conviction and I have to sit down with the victim to try to explain why justice was not done. As a part of the prosecution, we have the highest burden of proof because we don’t want to convict an innocent person.
And when we don’t get the conviction, it’s really not the jury’s fault. They can only deal with the facts they have been presented. But still it’s a disappointment. As for the juries here in Grand County, I have found that they all take their jobs very seriously and that’s all you can ask of them.
If elected this November, what are your goals as the new DA?
I’m a career prosecutor and committed to the DA’s office. I haven’t stopped being a prosecutor since I got this job seven years ago.
Given my experience as a DA, I know how to balance using common sense with seeking a conviction. I also recognize the difference between a person who has made a mistake and needs to be held accountable for their behavior, and a person who is dangerous to our community that has to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.