New prosecutor

Robert Whiting, who spent much of his youth in Telluride, is the new prosecutor for San Miguel County. [Photo by Andre Salvail]

 

Robert Whiting, who grew up in Telluride and spent some of his early adult years bartending and skiing here, is back in town — this time, as a prosecutor for the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Whiting, 33, is a deputy district attorney handling misdemeanor and felony cases originating in San Miguel County. He started at the end of May after serving as a prosecutor for nearly two years in Delta and Montrose counties.

He’s an avid skier and outdoors guy, with interests in volleyball, biking, rafting and soccer. To say he’s glad to be back in Telluride may be an understatement.

“I told (District Attorney) Dan Hotsenpiller that if you put me in that position in Telluride, you’ll probably have to drive me out of it at gunpoint,” Whiting joked. “I never thought I would be back just a few years after law school.”

Asked if the job is everything he hoped for, Whiting replied, “It will be.”

Whiting was born in the South, but moved to Telluride during his pre-kindergarten years. His family moved out of state while he was in middle school, but returned to Colorado when Whiting was a teenager. While attending high school in Carbondale, he visited Telluride periodically, strengthening his affinity for the area.

Whiting attended the University of Puget Sound, majoring in political science and environmental science. After earning an undergraduate degree, he returned to Telluride in the fall of 2005, and worked as a bartender at the former 9545 restaurant in Mountain Village.

A couple of years later he started law school at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, with plans to specialize in environmental law. Those goals changed, and after finishing law school, Whiting found himself working in Denver and specializing in business law. Success in the big city was sporadic — Whiting even turned to part-time ski instruction to pay the bills.

“I had been working to establish myself so that someday I could move back up here, but I realized that was sort of a circuitous and unnecessary thing to do,” he said. “And I started to have doubts about law as a field. So I moved to Ridgway in the summer of 2014 and I was thinking about getting into property management.”

Property management was not to be, as Whiting saw a job listing for an entry level position as a county court prosecutor in Delta County, which also falls under the umbrella of the 7th District Attorney’s Office.

“I sort of applied for it without a lot of hope that I would get it,” he said. “But I had some litigation experience and some good references, and the interview just went really well in some hilarious ways.” (The humor came about when he admitted that he didn’t know the answer to a question about the law, and his interviewers deemed with a laugh that his response was great — it meant he was “trainable.”)

Whiting said criminal law was not something he intended to delve into. “Once I looked into the position, it promised a chance to serve a community I had come to care about very deeply, which is the Western Slope, and a place where I wanted to settle.”

The job also held the promise of a lot of courtroom time, which was one of the main attractions. Whiting likes the courtroom, where he gets ample opportunities to think on his feet. He estimates that he’s in court about 12 hours out of the 40-hour work week.

“Of the skills involved in the law, courtroom litigation is one of the ones I trend toward, personality wise,” he said. “It’s government work, so it’s steady, and it’s meaningful work, because you’re actually doing something that affects people at the community level and on a personal level.”

He said he likes the variety involved in prosecuting misdemeanor and felony cases. The types of cases in San Miguel County are similar to those in Delta and Montrose counties: DUIs, drug possession, domestic violence, low-level theft. But there are some differences, such as the types of drug cases that tend to flow through the system.

“You see a lot of the same kinds of cases, but those cases come with different constitutional issues all the time,” Whiting said. “I’ve learned and now understand so much more about our fundamental rights, and why my job should be hard.”

Whiting said there is a definite learning curve in being the sole prosecutor in Telluride, but he’s had a lot of help from local law enforcement, his office staff and others. He said he has handled four jury trials in the short time he’s been in town, adding that doesn’t shy away from the competitiveness inherent to his position.

Whiting said within the District Attorney’s Office, there is no mandate to work out plea agreements for the sake of expediency or cost-efficiency.

“Plea dispositions are part and parcel to this job,” he said. “But I love trials so I’m fine going to trial.” 

Most of the defense attorneys and public defenders in the area, he said, clearly communicate the circumstances of their clients to him.

“And so you’re identifying what positives can potentially come out of the situation,” Whiting said. “Did somebody simply screw up, and do they deserve a slap on the wrist? Does somebody have a problem, and do we need to emphasize treatment or probation? Or is somebody at the point where we can only consider punitive measures, like prison?”

Whiting added that the 7th District Attorney’s Office places a huge emphasis on victim’s services, working closely with the San Miguel Resource Center, a Telluride-based domestic abuse treatment organization that seeks to address the long- and short-term needs of victims through intervention services, prevention education and social change.

“We do our best to provide a sense of inclusion, closure and justice, insofar as it is possible, to victims in crimes,” Whiting said.