New Grand County DA plans to reduce incarceration for addicts, mentally ill | SkyHiNews.com

New Grand County DA plans to reduce incarceration for addicts, mentally ill

Derek Maiolo dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com
Kathryn Dowdell shakes hands with 14th Judicial District Chief Judge, Michael O'Hara Monday afternoon. Dowdell was sworn in as Chief Deputy district attorney for Grand County.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Matt Karzen, a longtime prosecutor and Steamboat Springs resident, was sworn in Monday as district attorney of the 14th Judicial District.

His appointment comes after Brett Barkey announced his resignation as DA in May. Barkey, who served in his position since 2012, left to pursue volunteer opportunities and a graduate degree at the University of Denver. 

In preparation for his new job overseeing criminal cases in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties, Karzen has been meeting with local law enforcement agencies as well as legal and government officials to discuss his plans for the remainder of Barkey’s term, which ends in 2020.

Karzen said his mission is to strike a balance between public safety and human decency. For certain cases — specifically those involving drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness — he wants to seek treatment options for defendants rather than incarceration.

“Addiction and mental health are public heath issues that have been historically imposed on the criminal justice system, and we don’t have the resources to manage it,” Karzen said. 

Karzen said his mission is to strike a balance between public safety and human decency. For certain cases — specifically those involving drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness — he wants to seek treatment options for defendants rather than incarceration.

“Addiction and mental health are public heath issues that have been historically imposed on the criminal justice system, and we don’t have the resources to manage it,” Karzen said. 

Others in the legal community are pleased that Karzen is taking the helm as DA, even those who have argued against him in the courtroom.

Larry Combs, a defense attorney who has been practicing law in Routt County for about 20 years, has seen firsthand Karzen’s balanced approach to criminal cases. 

“He is a very formidable opponent in the courtroom, but in negotiations and discussions, I think he really appreciates when people are sincere in making a change in their lives,” Combs said. 

As someone who believes that incarceration does not cure addiction, Combs appreciates having a prosecutor in the DA’s Office who is willing to look for alternative dispositions while finding justice for victims. 

“Overall, I think he is going to be a tremendous asset to the 14th Judicial District,” Combs said.

Karzen attended law school at the University of Denver and began his legal career as a deputy DA in Grand County from 1995 to 1997. He also has worked as a prosecutor in the Child Sex Assault Unit in Arapahoe County and the Gang Prosecution Unit in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and as a chief assistant DA primarily responsible for homicide prosecutions in Athens, Georgia, and as both chief deputy DA and assistant DA in the 14th Judicial District of Colorado. 

Public Office Hours

Matt Karzen will offer public “walk-in” office hours every week in each county. He will be available from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays at the Routt DA’s Office in the Routt County Justice Center, 1955 Shield Drive.

Karzen is also making some changes to encourage his colleagues to volunteer. Starting July 1, he said employees can apply to take a “service sabbatical,” during which they could, for example, help provide extended disaster relief or build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

An avid service member himself, Karzen has applied much of what he’s learned through groups like Steamboat Ski Patrol, where he worked as a ski patroller and, most recently, Routt County Search and Rescue, to his legal work. The primary task of a first responder, as he described it, is to condense information to the basic facts — a lost person’s GPS coordinates or a patient’s vitals — and make decisions based on that cut-and-dry information. 

He believes such knowledge can be invaluable to the legal world, especially for young prosecutors learning how to assess criminal cases. 

“And you never lose sight of the endgame, which is doing the right thing,” Karzen said.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo

New assistant DA and Grand County chief deputy sworn in

A new assistant district attorney for the 14th Judicial District, and a new chief deputy district attorney for Grand County were sworn in on Monday by the newly appointed district attorney Matt Karzen.

Matthew Tjosvold will serve as the district’s Assistant District Attorney and Kathryn Dowdell as the chief deputy district attorney for Grand County.

According to a news release, Tjosvold graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in political science and from Vermont Law School in 2009.

He began his career with the 14th Judicial District as a deputy DA in Grand County in January of 2010 and then worked as the chief deputy DA in Moffat County from 2011 to 2014.

He practiced law in the private sector from 2014 to March 1, 2018, when he returned to the DA’s office. Tjosvold lives in Steamboat Springs with his wife.

Dowdell graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in politics and government in 2008 and from Ave Maria School of Law in 2011. She has worked the last eight years as a Deputy DA in the 14th Judicial District, both in Moffat and Grand Counties. Dowdell resides in Granby with her husband, two German Shepherds, a horse and two cats.

“Matthew and Kathryn are experienced prosecutors and outstanding litigators with excellent judgment,” Karzen said in the release. “Their leadership in the office has been, and will continue to be, critical to delivering the high quality, level-headed prosecution services that our citizens deserve, and it is my honor to work alongside them both — we are lucky to have them.”

— Sky-Hi News Staff Report


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