The Mesa County Board of Commissioners on Monday named four new finalists for his county attorney position, including former 21st Judicial District attorney Pete Hautzinger, who now works as a federal prosecutor in Grand Junction.
The other three are Mesa County Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Savage, 7th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Robert Zentner, and Todd Starr, who has worked as a County District Attorney in three Western Slope counties.
The four finalists are the result of a third attempt by county commissioners to replace former county attorney Patrick Coleman, whose contract was not renewed in January after six years on the job.
In the first round, the commissioners named two finalists, offering the job to whoever then turned them down. In the second round, the commissioners named former Mesa County commissioner Rose Pugliese as the sole finalist, but she subsequently withdrew her candidacy before the job was offered to her.
Thirteen new candidates applied for the post.
Here’s a quick look at each finalist:
■ Prior to accepting the position of Deputy United States Attorney in 2015, working at the Grand Junction Federal Courthouse, Hautzinger was the elected prosecutor for the 21st Judicial District, which includes all of Mesa County.
He held this position for 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, being elected twice as a Republican candidate. Previously, he worked as Deputy County Chief Prosecutor from 1992 to 2004.
Around this time, Hautzinger attempted to run for the Colorado Senate, running as a Democrat against then-Senator Ron Teck, R-Grand Junction, in 1998.
Hautzinger began his legal career after graduating from the University of Colorado Law School in 1988 as an Adams County Assistant District Attorney. He worked there until 1992 when he moved to Mesa County.
■ Like Hautzinger, Starr also has a long career as a public and private lawyer. He is currently a partner at a Pagosa Springs law firm, but has the county attorney contract for Archuleta and Rio Blanco counties, which he has been doing since 2018.
Previously, Starr was Archuleta County Attorney from 2009 to 2019. He was the county’s in-house attorney for most of that time, but went into private practice in 2015, still retaining the county as an attorney at part-time under Contract.
During his tenure, Starr was the subject of controversy, garnering several complaints about him from local media and residents of Pagosa Springs, one of which led to a formal misconduct charge brought to the court. Colorado Independent Ethics Commission in 2016.
This panel, however, erased Starr from all complaints against him, saying he had not violated any provision of the state’s ethics laws.
Currently, Starr is the subject of a lawsuit filed against him in February by a court-appointed trustee in a federal bankruptcy case, according to documents filed with the U.S. Colorado District Bankruptcy Court.
In the complaint against him – Starr delayed filing a response three times – this trustee alleges that Starr, without the knowledge of the trustee or without bankruptcy court approval, helped sell property that was part Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.
“Starr knew that the transfer of the proceeds from the sale of the building was not authorized by the court, the trustee or the bankruptcy code,” the complaint read. “Starr has engaged in serious misconduct amounting to fraud and overbreadth.”
Starr, a failed Garfield County Lawyer finalist in 2011, was also a Dolores County District Attorney from 2000 to 2009. He calls the Mesa County Lawyer job a “dream job.”
■ Zentner has worked for the offices of the 7th and 21st judicial districts on an intermittent basis since 2002.
Currently, he is an assistant district attorney in the 7th, overseeing 12 other attorneys in four offices in six counties. The district includes the counties of Delta, Montrose, Gunnison, San Miguel, Ouray and Hinsdale.
From 2008-2011, he worked in the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, dealing with addiction and neglect cases. For years, he did not work as an assistant district attorney or assistant county attorney, he worked in private practice.
Zentner graduated from the University of Denver in 2000, the same college where he earned a master’s degree in business administration. Her undergraduate degree is in Finance and Business Administration from the University of Colorado.
■ Like Zentner, Savage also worked as a Mesa County Assistant District Attorney before joining the County District Attorney’s Office in 2017.
A graduate of Creighton University Law School in Omaha, Savage began as Deputy County Attorney under Coleman in 2017, overseeing the office’s human services division. Her undergraduate degree is in economics from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
He has dealt with many legal matters handled by the county attorney’s office, child and adult welfare issues.
Previously, Zentner worked as an assistant district trial attorney, working for Hautzinger and now district attorney Dan Rubinstein.
Whoever gets the job – the commissioners are due to meet with each over the next three weeks – will oversee an office of 17 employees, including eight lawyers. The office provides assistance with everything from reviewing and drafting county contracts, defending the county in legal proceedings and handling legal issues for the Department of Human Services, primarily in cases of child abuse. children and adults at risk.
When Coleman left his job, he was making $ 185,000 a year.