MONTROSE – Citing a “concern for citizens,” Seventh Judicial District Attorney Myrl Serra, who is facing felony extortion and felony sexual contact charges, has resigned his position.
Serra has been barred from performing his duties since his arrest in late September for alleged improper sexual contact with some employees. He faces charges of felony extortion, felony sexual contact with no consent, two misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, and three misdemeanor charges of indecent exposure.
Serra made no mention of the charges in his resignation letter sent to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper last week, stating only that his decision is “made out of concern for the citizens of the six counties of which the Seventh District is comprised.”
Serra, who makes about $150,000 a year, cannot, as an elected official, be put on unpaid leave, and so has continued to receive his full pay even though he is forbidden to go to his office or any district building, except for court appearances. In his letter to Hickenlooper, Sera complained that the recent appointment of attorney Dan Hotsenpiller as the new DA by Chief Judge J. Steven Patrick is costing the district a double salary, and may be illegal.
“…Judge Patrick’s administrative order is incompatible with state law – a judicial officer selecting an executive branch officer,” he wrote.
But Serra’s resignation makes that point moot, since now that he has resigned, the governor is bound by the State Constitution to make an appointment to fill the DA’s position and rescind the appointment of Hotsenpiller, said Jim Clayton, administrator for the Seventh Judicial District.
Until the governor decides whom to appoint, the DA’s office will be run by the State Attorney General’s Office, as it was before Hotsenpiller’s appointment, Clayton said.
“With the resignation it creates a vacancy rather than an absence, which initiates the constitutional provision that the governor appoints the DA,” he said.
In his resignation letter, Serra wrote that although some people had encouraged him to remain on the job until the court case was resolved, he made the decision to resign because “a quick resolution to the underlying issues” has not occurred.
Serra’s attorney, Colin Bresee, said the court has taken three months to set a preliminary hearing, a step that usually takes only 30 days. The delay kept the defense from presenting any evidence that might have led to a reduction of charges, he said. An attempt to impeach Serra would have been better, he added.
“It would have been the best thing to have impeachment, because we would have a chance to call witnesses and get transcripts [of testimony],” Bresee said. “It would be the best thing for us. Now they’re having to have all those witnesses travel down, and look at how much it’s going to cost the taxpayers.”
According to Bresee, Serra’s concern for taxpayers prompted his resignation. Serra has tried to take an unpaid leave of absence since charges were first filed last fall, Bresee said, but “politicians are not allowed to take furlough days.”
In his resignation letter, Serra also complained to Hickenlooper that appointing Hotsenpiller as DA “excluded the entire lawyer staff of the Seventh Judicial District” and said “several lawsuits are pending” to challenge the appointment.
The preliminary hearing for Serra is set for 9 a.m. on Feb. 11; at it, only the first charge filed against him – felony unlawful sexual contact with no consent, with force or threat – will be considered, said Bresee. Court documents show that at least one of Serra’s female employees testified that she complied with his sexual advances dozens of times and did not resist, out of fear of losing her job. The woman said she complied because Serra was “always threatening to fire people.”
Bresee said he is not sure exactly what will happen at the preliminary hearing, but that the prosecution will probably make a “mini-presentation” on the case.
“We’ll have some questions on facts and details but my guess is it will be very doubtful they will have a victim testify because they’ll want to protect this person at all costs. But this isn’t about fairness,” he said.