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Accused of going too far to help ID theft victim

October 07, 2006 - News for Public Officials

District Attorney Carol Chambers is aggressively fighting the most serious sanctions that any Colorado district attorney has faced in 20 years. The problems began when she was asked to investigate a collection attorney who was allegedly hounding identity theft victims for payment on checks issued in the victims names.

Chambers is the chief prosecutor for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties, is accused of threatening a lawyer with a criminal probe to help a constituent in a dispute with a collection agency.

According to the complaint filed in June against Chambers, Jonathan R. Steiner was an attorney working for Central Credit Corporation , which was trying to collect money from Laurett Barrentine. The collections company was trying to recover money for two checks written to Wal-Mart - one for $192.15, the other for $128.17.

Barrantine said she told Steiner that she was a victim of identity theft and that the thief had written the checks in her name, but Steiner refused to back off.

Barrentine approached the DA for help  in November 2005. Chambers said her office was investigating various complaints from victims of identity theft who claimed collection agencies were hounding them to pay for checks they did not write.

"I wouldn't exactly call me a powerful person. We don't lunch together. I didn't go and have a cocktail with her and come up with some devious plan. I called her as a constituent," Barrentine said. She said she is not close to Chambers and did not even work on her campaign.

Barrentine said she was impressed that Chambers went to bat for her against a lawyer who wouldn't stop harassing her. She said Chambers was simply doing her job and deserves respect, rather than condemnation.

Chambers referred Barrentine to her husband, Nathan Chambers who agreed to represent her for free. The collection agency later agreed to dismiss the complaint against Barrentine and paid her $220 as part of the dismissal.

A week before Central Credit dropped its case, Carol Chambers left a voicemail message for Steiner, saying he was using high-pressure tactics and that she had received several complaints. "I am looking at investigating this with the grand jury, and I'd like to hear your input first if you'd like to make it . . . " She said the message was not directed at him individually, but to other lawyers and collection agencies.

Steiner alleges in the complaint against the  DA that after receiving the message, "He felt threatened and intimidated." He says that when he told the vice president of operations for the collection agency about the voicemail, "She, too, was concerned by the District Attorney's involvement in what had appeared to them to be a routine collection action."

Chambers told reporters for the Rocky Mountain News she doesn't buy it. "He is trying to say that he was intimidated, but the fact is he could not take this case to trial," Chambers said. "He did not have the evidence to support it."

She said Steiner didn't bother calling Barrentine's bank to confirm whether the numbers on the check were from her account number.

"It's not a threat," Chambers said referring to the voicemail she left Steiner. "I'm telling him what I'm doing. He specifically, and others in general."

"This has always been an interesting case to me because the Attorney Regulation Council has been turning a blind eye to the conduct of Mr. Steiner," Chambers said. She said that the Attorney Regulation Council, which works under the state Supreme Court, is investigating the wrong person.

The counts Chambers is being investigated for include making "false or misleading statement of fact or law," threatening to prosecute Steiner, and using office "to intimidate a party in civil litigation."

Chambers told the Denver Post,"They are very concerned about my allegedly intimidating this young attorney, but they seem to have no concern whatsoever about the victim (Barrentine), we are concerned about victims, and if someone is revictimizing them, I'm going to have a say about it."

Denver lawyer and legal analyst Scott Robinson told reporters he has sympathy for Chambers because she was trying to help a victim of identity theft. However, he thinks she's in "a little bit of hot water." He said no lawyer ever wants to face a disciplinary hearing, but he doubts Chambers will suffer serious punishment.

The case against Chambers will go before Judge William Luceroto for a three-day trial beginning Oct. 23. According to John Gleason, head of the Regulation Council, if found guilty, Chambers' punishment could range from a private or public admonition, to disbarment. He said that the harshest punishment is unlikely.


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