Hotsenpiller opens door at scandal-ridden office
MONTROSE — You can see through the glass door installed on the entrance to his office. That means even when the door is closed, you can see Dan Hotsenpiller. You can see what the Seventh Judicial District Attorney is doing when he’s in his office.
Hotsenpiller made sure of that.
He said he wouldn’t accept his appointment as district attorney unless the solid-wood door that was on his predecessor’s office was replaced with a glass door. He said his goal is to increase transparency throughout the district attorney’s office, which was rocked Sept. 30 by the arrest of former DA Myrl Serra, who was charged with sex crimes against some of his employees. The transparency started literally with the new, clear-glass door that signals to Hotsenpiller’s employees change has come to the 7th Judicial District.
Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Hotsenpiller as district attorney Jan. 21. Since then, Hotsenpiller has tried to reduce the subsequent uncertainty and stress from Serra’s arrest and lead the office forward, turning all of what happened into a memory.
His corner office, which overlooks the Montrose Justice Center, was where some of Serra’s alleged sexual misconduct took place. Serra’s charges include unlawful sexual contact by use of force, criminal extortion, misdemeanor unlawful sexual contact, indecent exposure and official misconduct.
“I stipulated that I would only take this job if they put in a glass door,” Hotsenpiller said. “And that was one small way, and an important one, to tell them who I was.”
Hotsenpiller told his employees his door also would always be open, a message to them that he is approachable and trustworthy. The same philosophy applies for the general public, as he is tasked with improving the reputation and relationship the office has with the district’s residents.
Hotsenpiller, 50, a native of Elgin, Ill., said his path to criminal law happened by chance. Upon graduating from the University of Colorado he began his career investigating arson and insurance fraud for five years, with no intention of prosecuting violent offenders. Following his own self interest, he switched to criminal law where he worked as a prosecutor from 1994 to 2004 in the 7th Judicial District office in Montrose.
From there, he worked for a year in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Junction, then did a five-year stint as a prosecutor for the city of Montrose.
Hotsenpiller, who is married with four children, said he remains a firm believer a strong judicial system is the foundation for a free and prosperous society.
“Holding offenders accountable is important to me,” he said. “Crime, disputes are going to happen, and only when we uphold the law can we be prosperous and free.”
He views being district attorney as “a heck of an opportunity” and wants to seize it to make positive change.
His list of changes includes an improved support structure for his 29 employees, including 10 prosecutors, plus modified and improved programs for victims and offenders.
He said the district recently hired a victim-services coordinator in Gunnison, and in Montrose the office dedicated new meeting-room space for victims, a priority since taking the job.
Caring for victims, Hotsenpiller said, is vital for the office in prosecuting offenders. In most cases, he said, the victim knows the offender committing the crime. Resolving the core dispute between victim and offender can drastically improve each party long after sentences and restitution are carried out, he said.
“What we’re doing is trying to resolve the problems that lead to the offense,” Hotsenpiller said.
He has a goal of developing stronger programs for helping inmates identify and develop their strengths, giving them a better chance at succeeding and not reoffending when they return to society.
“We need to be asking ourselves: Is what we are doing working?” Hotsenpiller said.
He thinks juvenile offenders in such programs can modify and improve behavior and as a result avoid environments and behaviors that mean more trouble and prison, Hotsenpiller said.
“The concept is building on the juvenile’s strengths and building on the family’s strengths to find solutions that are going to work,” Hotsenpiller said.
He said the creation of new mediation and diversion programs could help solve some problems, yield more success and make certain areas of the legal system more efficient.
“When it’s not working, we can work together with the court system,” Hotsenpiller said.
Jason Wilson, an attorney who worked for Hotsenpiller for three years at the Montrose firm Delman and Hotsenpiller, believes the governor got it right when he appointed Hotsenpiller to lead the Seventh Judicial District.
“He has integrity and is able to look at and understand both sides of an issue,” Wilson said. “I really can’t think of a better person suited for that position.
“He’s great guy, great person, has a great sense of humor and is a really great attorney.”