DAs 2
Mitch Murray left and Gordon McLaughlin right
This morning we're checking in with Mitch Murray and Gordon McLaughlin, candidates for the 8th Judicial District Attorney. The 8th Judicial District encompasses Larimer and Jackson counties. Cliff Riedel, the current DA is term-limited and is not running for reelection.YGR is not endorsing either candidate, rather informing where they stand on topics that are important to the cycling community.  We'll start off with some softball questions then move onto some much more important questions with regards how they will charge and prosecute drivers accused of assaulting cyclists. We encourage you to research each candidate to see where they stand on other issues that are important to you. We thank each candidate for taking the time to answer these questions as well as Megan Hottman of the Hottman Law Office for providing the final four questions which are specific to charging and prosecuting. 
 
Above all else, please get out and Vote! 
 
Gordon McLaughlin

He’s a Fort Collins resident who’s grateful to live in such an incredible place. From Horsetooth Reservoir to Cameron Pass, Gordon and his wife Jess love to run, hike, ski, and otherwise explore the natural wonders of Northern Colorado. Outdoors aside, Gordon McLaughlin knows it’s the people that make this area great, and his passions lie in supporting our community. A volunteer who donates his time to organizations like the Food Bank of Larimer County and Bike Fort Collins, Gordon is deeply invested in our community, and is working to ensure that it remains an exceptional place to live.

Mitch Murray

Whether it is learning a new cooking method, how to weld, or how to operate a sewing machine, Mitch's innate curiosity and his desire to learn and understand how things work are never ending. If you don’t find Mitch in the kitchen, he might be out in the garage rebuilding an old car engine, or standing in a river waving around a fly rod. Mitch and his wife Emily live in Fort Collins, where they have raised five wonderful children.


 
2020 8th Judicial District Attorney Candidate Questions and Answers
YGR: Are you a cyclist?
Gordon McLaughlin: Yes!
Mitch Murray: Yes

YGR: If so, what type of riding do you do?
Gordon McLaughlin: I commute to work almost every day by bike and bike around town frequently for errands, coffee, meetings, etc.
I also cycle recreationally. I ride road, mountain and gravel. I’ve had a nagging neck issue the last few years and haven’t been able to get long rides in as much, but I’ve been out on all three formats quite a bit this summer: mountain biking in Horsetooth and the Snowies, riding my road bike on the dams and up north of town, and taking the gravel bike out east and along the bike paths.
Mitch Murray: I mainly ride on our paved bike trails. I have an early 80’s Specialized Expedition touring bike that I outfitted with a dynamo hub, quality lights, and front and rear panniers, with the hope of someday doing some touring. Unfortunately, I have not yet found the time. I also have a couple older mountain bikes with front suspension that I like to ride on mild dirt tracks around Pineridge, Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge. Having raised five kids, my garage has always been full of bikes, and still is.

YGR: If so, are you involved in the cycling community?
Gordon McLaughlin: Yes. I’ve been on the board of Bike Fort Collins for about 6 years, most of that time as Vice President of the Board.
Mitch Murray: (Didn't answer)

YGR: If so, have you taken part in any local events or races?
Gordon McLaughlin: I raced a couple of cross events in town some years ago. I got beat pretty bad but they were lots of fun. I used to dabble in triathlons as well, but I’m a terrible swimmer, so that didn’t last long. My neck injury eventually led to less time in the saddle and I haven’t raced on the bike in several years. I do still spectate races locally, including the races at New Belgium.
Mitch Murray: Does Tour de Fat count? I have built a “tall bike” for two riders and a couch bike for Tour de Fat. One year we converted the couch bike into a fishing raft and had a boat bike. I have not done any racing. I have also donated parts to the bike co-op and done some work on my bike at their shop.

YGR: If so, have you or your family had first hand experience with aggressive or negligent drivers while you/they were riding?
Gordon McLaughlin: Yes. A number of years ago I was hit by a car while commuting in Boulder. Luckily, it was a very low speed crash and I was ok. It was essentially a right-hook, and the driver felt bad, they were not aggressive. But that was very scary nonetheless. Had I not been anticipating drivers making those illegal and reckless decisions, it would have been a significantly worse result.
I have also personally experienced aggressive drivers locally. I’ve been yelled at and honked at while riding up Rist Canyon. I’ve had a truck roll coal on me downtown. I’ve had trucks buzz right next to me while riding the dams and other places. Just this summer I had a driver scream and swear at me for riding in the lane on Oak St. (where there is no bike lane) as he felt the road was only for cars. I won't repeat what he said in what I hope is a survey families will read.
Mitch Murray: All of the above. 99% of my experiences have been good, but I have experienced both aggressive and negligent drivers. I have had drivers come by yelling, gunning their engine, or driving too close. My kids have related similar stories. More often, it is the negligent driver, pulling out in front of me or cutting me off. I have also had friends “brake checked” by drivers, leading to crashes and injury.

The following questions were provided by Megan Hottman of the Hottman Law Office. The Hottman Law Office exclusively represents injured cyclists and is based here in Colorado.

Hotman Law Office:  We have a new VRU (Vulnerable Road User) law in CO as of May 2019 - it says any driver who pleads guilty or is convicted of careless driving causing SBI (Serious Bodily Injury) to a VRU (aka cyclist), will lose 12 points on their license, aka will lose driving privileges for a period of time. We'd like to see more DAs actually using and charging this new law now that it exists, but sadly, most DAs in the front range area are declining to actually use this statute and press forward with the full 12 pts .... too many DAs seem to strike plea deals for careless driving, a mere 4 pt violation, or reckless driving an 8 pt violation -still allowing these drivers to keep their licenses. IF elected what will your position be on these cycling cases- will you and your staff be using the VRU law to its full extent, to get some of these drivers off the road for a period of time (and possibly force them to have to use a bike to get around while their license is revoked?)
Gordon McLaughlin: Yes, I will use that law for its intended purpose to keep vulnerable road users safe and train the deputies handling those cases on importance of the law. As a frequent vulnerable road user (as a regular runner and pedestrian, as well as cyclist) I know how unfair the matchup is between a human and a multi-ton vehicle and the new law is a helpful tool in prosecuting those cases. Driver’s licenses are a privilege, not a right. The current DA’s office will vigorously prosecute those who have lost their license due to non-payment of fines, but makes plea offers that don’t include 12pt violations for dangerous vehicular crimes. We should use our resources to prosecute those putting our community safety in danger. I have long advocated for alternative transportation around Larimer County, from bus service to bikeshare and know that, as you suggest, getting around without a car is possible (though I will continue to advocate to drastically improve those options).
Mitch Murray: Every case prosecuted by a Deputy District Attorney must be evaluated to determine what is a fair and just resolution. What will address the injury sustained by the victim? What will be a deterrent for the defendant and other drivers? What is the defendant’s level of remorse and accountability? What are the merits and provability of the case? All these factors need to be assessed and weighed to determine a proper resolution. I commit to taking the requests and input from the victim as a top priority in considering what is a just outcome and sentence. I absolutely believe that bicyclist must be protected. If the facts and circumstances justify holding for a plea or conviction to the 12 point offense and loss of license, that is what we will do. However, I cannot commit to seeking that outcome in every case that involves an injury to a bicyclist. I would be remiss in my duties to ethically determine what is appropriate on a case by case basis.

Hottman Law Office: Bike advocates for years now have been pushing for CRASH or COLLISION, NOT accident ... calling these accidents undermines their seriousness and deprives the victims of true justice. Too often, DAs and judges say, "oh, well, this was just an accident" right before they offer up a minor slap on the wrist and decline to punish the driver- even in the presence of serious and permanent harm to the cyclist. What is your position on this and how will you train your office and fellow DAs to stop using the A-word, and to stop diminishing these collisions as "just accidents?"
Gordon McLaughlin: I agree. Calling a crash (which by the premise of this question is a crash rising to a criminal level) an accident diminishes the severity of the behavior. Of the 40 attorneys at the Larimer DAs office, only myself and one other attorney commuted by bike. Many don’t understand cycling, most have never faced an aggressive driver while on a bike, and there is not a culture where attempting to understand that is encouraged. Cycling is seen as a dismissable hobby. I know that it is not only an integral part of the lives of many Larimer residents and part of what brings joy and love for our Colorado outdoors, quality time with family and friends, and mental health benefits, but an essential means of transportation for many of our community members, often those in historically marginalized communities and those of lower income. Shifting the words we use can shift the culture surrounding these crimes.
Mitch Murray: I believe that most of these are in fact collisions and not accidents. Words do have power. Many of our deputies refer to these incidents as collisions. For those that do not, I am committed to educating them on this important distinction. I can assure you that every collision is taken seriously and every effort is made to obtain the proper information to make an informed and just decision, including traffic history, input from the victim, and facts, both aggravating and mitigating, to ensure an appropriate outcome.

Hottman Law Office: As a Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly City, FoCo leads the state and country in its bike safety measures -- enforcement, education and infrastructure play a huge part. If elected, how will you empower our local law enforcement officers to go out and enforce our laws, like the 3-foot law, the new bike lane law (effective July 2020), the new VRU law and more? If officers feel supported by their DAs, they are far more likely to issue traffic citations and pull offending motorists over, even just to provide an educational stop.
Gordon McLaughlin: Clear communication between the DA’s office and law enforcement on expectations, priorities and what we are willing to go to bat for and devote the resources to prosecute is important. This is especially true in light of recent law changes. As a board member of Bike Fort Collins, I worked with Megan Hottman several years ago to set up cycling law specific trainings at Fort Collins PD. I would absolutely increase that coordination with law enforcement. I was one of the few, if not only, Deputy in the DAs in Larimer to attend the week-long Crash Reconstruction program provided by the Colorado State Patrol. It was a comprehensive program that brought together prosecutors and police so we each understood the causes, evidence and roles in enforcing and prosecuting traffic laws and serious crashes. Ensuring we are training attorneys and law enforcement and providing them with the tools they need to prosecute the difficult crash cases is essential to community safety and protecting all road users.
Mitch Murray: Attorneys from the District Attorney’s office routinely provide training and education to our local law
enforcement officers. We can incorporate more information in those trainings addressing the new laws passed to increase bicyclist safety and discuss how existing traffic laws can be applied to incidents of aggressive or negligent drivers. I completely agree with the statement that support from the DAs will increase the likelihood that officers will enforce and educate on these issues.
Hotman Law Office:  Colorado holds itself out as a cycling mecca, and as a state we benefit financially in many ways from cycling - -numerous bike shops generate tax dollars, create jobs, we host events that bring in out of state and out of country riders to book lodging and spend money in our state while they enjoy the riding here. If we are going to benefit from the financial impacts of cycling, why isn't our state doing more to make it safer to ride bikes here? 2018 and 2019 were two of the deadliest years for cyclists here on the front range - if elected, how will YOU work to make cycling safer by truly punishing drivers who harm cyclists in our state?
Gordon McLaughlin: First, I will take some of the important steps already mentioned above. I will prioritize the safety of vulnerable road users, I will create a culture where Deputy DAs understand the dangers of vehicular crimes to those users, I will collaborate with law enforcement, and I will train Deputy DAs on how to effectively prosecute those cases. I will also use a great resource of the DA (the chief law enforcement officer in the jurisdiction) which is the bully pulpit. We need to let the community know the impacts of crashes involving vulnerable road users, educate them on the laws, and make clear we will hold folks accountable for violating those laws. In my many years as a prosecutor handling vehicular crimes and as an advocate with Bike Fort Collins, I know many drivers just don’t know the laws and others just don’t care. The DA needs to speak up for the cycling community when they are victims of some of these horrific crimes and help to educate the community about the laws protecting cyclists. The DA in Larimer County has never aided those efforts. I will do that work. For lower-level vehicular crimes, I will work to ensure the sentencing is appropriate and educational, so that the offender does not repeat that behavior and takes those lessons on to their network and community. I will work with our community partners on education for those in the criminal justice system for crimes regarding cyclists. For serious violations of the law involving vehicular crimes, there will be serious consequences. I’ve prosecuted those crimes, including several vehicular homicide cases. When a loved one is killed in a crash, it may not be categorized as the highest level crime, but it is the ultimate price to pay. I am committed to making this community safer for us all to cycle in. I am also committed to be accountable and transparent about how we make decisions on these matters and will answer questions from the community and be available to hear concerns.
Mitch Murray: Fort Collins is a wonderful community, with diverse recreational opportunities.  I am thankful it is a place where trail users still greet each other with a smile and conflict is the exception not the rule.  The first step in enforcing proper driver safety around bicyclists is educating drivers on the law when it comes to sharing the road with bicyclists. I believe education is the key. I am committed to working and partnering with organizations like Bike Fort Collins to educate the community on the rules of the road. With this education I believe we can decrease law violations and increase safety. We will not hesitate to hold defendants accountable in the aggravated cases. I am committed to assess every case with the scrutiny it deserves, to honor the injured victims and to work for a just resolution.