PRIMARY 2020: Among protests, promises for sea changes in 18th judicial district

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Hundreds of protestors turned out to Aurora City Hall Saturday June 6, focusing on the deaths of Aurora blacks at the hands of local police. Democratic candidates for one of two judicial districts in Aurora have taken up the reform mantle as part of their bid for the nomination to run for DA in the 18th judicial district.  PHOTO BY PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

A pair of Democratic attorneys are slated to face off in this month’s primary election in a race that has slowly received magnified attention as calls for criminal justice overhaul have continued to mushroom in the weeks following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Democrats Amy Padden and Matt Maillaro are both vying to become the Democratic nominee for district attorney in the 18th judicial district, which covers Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. The eventual winner of the Democratic primary later this month will face off against Republican John Kellner in November.

The current District Attorney in the 18th, Republican George Brauchler, is term-limited.

Big name endorsements have recently made a splash in the local contest after Padden received a nod of approval from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last week.

“Amy Padden is a true progressive, running on a Criminal Justice reform platform, including combating mass incarceration, prosecuting hate crimes and police misconduct, and protecting immigrant communities,” Sanders wrote in a Medium post. “She has received the backing of Democrats and progressives across Colorado, as well as national criminal justice reformers.”

Padden, who most recently worked as a deputy district attorney in the 5th judicial district under Democratic DA Bruce Brown, has also touted endorsements from U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the majority of the Aurora Public Schools board of education, and a bevy of current and former state lawmakers.

Padden left her role in the 5th judicial district, which runs through the Interstate 70 mountain corridor, to focus on campaigning earlier this spring. She previously worked as a former assistant attorney general, an executive assistant U.S. attorney and ran in the Democratic primary for state attorney general in 2018.

Maillaro, who currently works as an assistant DA in the 18th, has nabbed endorsements from Aurora state Sen. Rhonda Fields, former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, and a smattering of Colorado law enforcement officials, including Arapahoe County Sheriff Tyler Brown.

Maillaro, a Centennial resident, holds a law degree from the University of Denver College of Law. Padden, who currently lives in Aurora, is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center.

Both candidates have vowed to institute change in an office that has been a Republican bastion since it was created in the early 1960s.

Whomever takes control of the state’s largest judicial district next year will be the final district attorney of the current four-county swath of the metroplex. Gov. Jared Polis earlier this year signed a bill authorizing the division of the district in 2025. In Nov. 2024, voters in Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties will elect the first ever district attorney of the new 23rd judicial district. The 18th will continue to exist, but will only handle Arapahoe County cases moving forward.

Maillaro and Padden remain relatively even in terms of campaign contributions, with the former reporting nearly $74,000 in monetary donations and the latter listing about $71,500 in contributions as of June 1, according to campaign finance reports. Padden has loaned herself $80,000, and Maillaro has inked himself a check for $50,000.

But Maillaro has spent far more than anyone else in the race, reporting about $111,000 in expenditures as of last week. Padden has spent less than half that amount.

Kellner has so far only spent about $11,000 and has about $29,000 on-hand.

The head of north Aurora’s 17th Judicial District, which covers all crime north of East Colfax Avenue, is also term-limited this fall. But neither of the two candidates vying to replace current DA Dave Young, Democrat Brian Mason and Republican Tim McCormack, face primary challengers.