There's a new DA in town

Managing budget cuts, juvenile delinquency top concerns for chief prosecutor

The business cards still read "deputy," while a 13-volume set of prosecutors' rules and procedures have just recently found a home on Bonnie Roesink's packed office shelves at the Moffat County Courthouse.

Welcome to District Attorney 101.

"It's much more involved and complicated than I had any idea," said Roesink, the veteran Craig prosecutor who is in her second month as district attorney for the 14th Judicial District.

"All the district attorneys have said, 'Call if you have a question,' Roesink said. "My problem's been I just haven't had time to call anybody."

Realities particularly hit home at a recent orientation in Denver, where the Colorado District Attorneys Council offered a crash course and volumes of information on the job.

That one trip led to a new, unanticipated hire.

"Every other district attorney has had an administrator for a number of years," Roesink said. "So when a new district attorney comes in, they have someone who has been in the office with knowledge of the budget, finances and all of these issues.

"I'm starting from ground zero."

Roesink was appointed to the job by Gov. Bill Owens Feb. 28 -- sworn in that same day in Hot Sulphur Springs by her predecessor and new District Court Judge Paul McLimans.

A native of Plainfield, N.J., Roesink continues a lineage of family attorneys and a career path, which didn't start in law.

Roesink's father, Carl H. Smith Jr. -- who served with the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II -- practiced law like his father, Carl H. Smith Sr.

Roesink graduated from the University of Wyoming with a pre-medicine degree and might have pursued the career had it not been for an off-putting 1965 interview for admission to the University of Colorado's system.

"This lady asked, 'Do you want to get married and have a family? We're not going to put all this money into your education if you're not going to dedicate your whole life to being a doctor.'"

Roesink instead opted to become a flight attendant -- travels as a Braniff Airlines employee that had her accompanying American soldiers en route to Vietnam. After nearly two years, she left for family life.

Roesink wanted a change in 1983 with an eye toward the family law tradition.

"After 18 years, I wasn't going back to medical school ... it simply takes too long," Roesink said.

At age 40, Roesink went back to school to study law at the University of Colorado, where an advertised prosecutor's job in Craig caught her attention.

She was hired as deputy district attorney by Greg Long, former district attorney and McLimans' predecessor, in March 1987.

Roesink said the decision to work in a rural judicial district afforded opportunities she might not have had elsewhere.

"When you're in a big city, you start out in county court only and when you do move into felony cases, it's very specialized what you prosecute," she said.

"Here you're doing it all, from barking dogs, to DUIs and manslaughter."

Roesink also suggested rural prosecutors' closer contact with defendants benefits the system.

"You really can take a look at the person and try to make a decision based on what's fair for that person," Roesink said. "They're not a number where they might be in a metro situation."

But despite that sentiment, Roesink insists the district attorney's post wasn't a career ambition late last year as McLimans sought former Judge Joel Thompson's vacated seat.

"I had thought I'd probably bow out gracefully and become a grandmother," she laughed.

Instead, Roesink finds herself filling out McLimans' term of office, which expires in the fall of 2004. Roesink is hesitant to discuss her future in the election of November 2004.

"I would hope to be in this position for the long term, but it's necessary to determine the legalities before I make a declaration," she said.

A host of issues will need addressing between now and then, as the state's judicial branch continues to be impacted by state and local revenue cuts. Roesink oversees the prosecutors' budget for each office in Moffat, Grand and Routt counties. The money is spit into percentages determined by populations in each county -- data that is updated each May.

"When I first came here, we had three investigators in this office," Roesink said. "One for each county. We've gone down to one for all three, and that's a real challenge for us," she said.

Roesink, who volunteers as an adult mentor working with girls in junior high school, said Moffat County's juvenile delinquency rates is one topic she would hope to address.

Studying the root of the problem could be a start, she said.

"We're the highest among the three counties in delinquency cases, and it has always been that way since I've been here," Roesink said. "I'd like to come up with some new ideas about how to deal with these issues."

Staff vacancies -- including her own former Craig position -- have not proved easy fill, she said.

"Part of it is a pay issue," she said. "We just can't offer what the metro-area district attorneys are paying."

"And," she said, "not just filling the position, but someone who will be a part of your philosophy of justice, and how it should be served."

Roesink said she looks to McLimans' example on that point.

"Just do the right thing and treat people fairly."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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