Seth Ryan is ready to apply his prosecutorial skills and business training to the office of District Attorney, in hopes of expanding its mission.
Ryan, currently chief deputy district attorney for the 7th Judicial District, recently announced his run for top prosecutor spot and hopes to replace the term-limited DA Dan Hotsenpiller, after the 2020 election.
“I think being a district attorney is the best job in law, because at the end of the day, you always have the opportunity to do the right thing. At the end of the day, you feel like you’re doing something important,” said Ryan, who has been with the DA’s office since 2007 and has for the past five years headed up the Special Victims Crime Unit. The unit primarily handles sex crimes prosecutions.
“I’m really passionate about this work, especially work with victims of sexual assault and victims of violent crimes. I’m excited to take some of the things I’ve learned the past five years of prosecuting sex crimes and bring that into the office as a whole,” added Ryan, who is running as a Republican.
The district attorney is, on a fundamental level, responsible for prosecuting violations of the state law within a judicial district. The 7th Judicial District is comprised of Montrose, Delta, Hinsdale, Gunnison, Ouray and San Miguel counties.
Ryan said that although there are staffing and funding limitations, the DA’s office can do more.
“I think that it has to be expanded and should be expanded. We are also responsible for working with our community partners to make all of our communities safer,” he said.
Heading up the Special Victims division was “an eye-opener” as to the importance of collaboration with law enforcement and other public agencies, Ryan explained.
“I think it’s really helped to achieve a strong result in the cases I’ve been involved in during the past five years. I’d like to incorporate that collaborative process into the rest of the DA’s office,” he said.
“I think that there are some management techniques that can be utilized to improve how we do our jobs, such as goal-setting, prioritizing our cases, making sure our people are accountable to other groups, as well as each other. I think there is a lot of room for improvement in that area.”
Ryan received his law degree and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Denver in 1997. Prior to entering the field of law, he worked as a stockbroker for Charles Schwab Inc.
“I would like to bring some of those business management practices into the field of law and start running this like a business would run its office,” Ryan said.
In law school, the student’s work tends to be “very solitary,” while in business school, work is more team-centered, which trained him in collaboration, Ryan said.
He hopes to bring more of that to the office of district attorney.
“Successful prosecution doesn’t come from people sitting in offices, making unilateral decisions. It comes from working with people who put a lot of work in on the ground,” Ryan said.
“I spent eight years working as a stockbroker and I learned a lot about the value of customer service. I think we need to take that approach to our victims and serve them in a way that supports them.”
The DA’s office employs victim advocates who assist victims through the court process; Ryan just wants the office to do even more to help.
All cases have complex elements, particularly sex crimes and crimes of violence. Ryan acknowledged that not all victims may feel their needs were met and that some members of the public may not think sex crimes are taken seriously enough. Not every prosecution leads to a conviction, and that can be particularly disappointing for victims, he said.
“The decisions that we make, as far as how we go to trial, what we do at trial and whether we go to trial are all designed to support and protect a victim,” Ryan said. “But ultimately, once we go to trial, once we rest our case, it’s out of our hands.”
The district is dealing with an upswing in felony prosecutions. With about eight months under its belt, 2019 has seen more than 400 cases that began as felony filings — and that’s just in Montrose County.
“We are dealing with more homicides in our district than we have in the previous 12 years I have been here,” Ryan also said.
Ryan was lead prosecutor on the Norwood deaths case, in which a woman was recently convicted of the first-degree murder of her two daughters. That case has five defendants; a man has been convicted of fatal child abuse, while a second man pleaded guilty to an accessory charge. One of the two other women accused is also charged with first-degree murder and her trial is pending. The second has been deemed legally incompetent to face fatal abuse charges.
The prosecutor’s office needs to adjust to better handle the growing number and complexity of cases, Ryan said.
“We need to be an office that’s smarter, that’s braver and that’s more community-minded. When I say smarter, I mean … there has to be more opportunity for training in any areas and skills that we actually face in trials,” he said. If attorneys have the tools they need, and can collaborate with community partners such as law enforcement, Ryan sees better across-the-board results, including for victims.
“I think the more we’re comfortable using the tools for successful trial work, the more successful results we’re going to have at trial,” he said.
The Legislature also hands challenges to district attorneys’ offices when it changes laws or passes new ones. Next March, a law that removes felony penalties for possessing under 4 grams of drugs goes into effect.
“We are dealing with changes in the drug laws and trying to formulate ways to protect our community based on what our new constraints are there,” Ryan said.
“For me, through this process, this isn’t a process of trying to get the most votes. The process for me is also to figure out where the District Attorney’s Office can improve and how I can make those improvements if elected.”
He said he is ready for the other elements of the job, such as budgeting and management.
The office is primarily funded by counties within the district and grants.
“Budgets are tight everywhere. (Counties) have priorities they have to set, but I think we’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, for the past several years,” Ryan said.
“ … We’re always looking at ways to improve our office in a fiscally responsible way instead of just throwing money at a problem.”
Ryan lives in Montrose with his wife, Stacey. In addition to his work, Ryan serves on the Montrose Memorial Hospital Inc. board of directors.
Ryan is, as his workload allows, making the rounds through the counties in the district to gather feedback as to how the office of district attorney can improve.
“I’m open for people to come up to me, tell me about their concerns and voice any sort of frustrations and constructive criticisms so we can do better as an office,” he said.
Ryan can be reached through his campaign site, ElectSethRyan.com.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.