The sexual assault case against NBA superstar Kobe Bryant put a white-hot spotlight on Eagle County back in 2003, exposing issues of racism and classism in the working-class town of Eagle 30 miles west of the posh ski resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek. The case also defined the career of a young district attorney named Mark Hurlbert.
Some critics to this day maintain Hurlbert botched the case, allowing the media storm to rage out of control and consume the alleged victim, a hotel worker who ultimately refused to press charges in the criminal case but won an undisclosed settlement in her civil case against Bryant. Others say Hurlbert, a popular Republican otherwise competent in his job, did what he had to do.
Now the term-limited DA for the Fifth Judicial District, which includes Eagle and Summit counties, is seeking the state Senate seat being vacated this year by Democrat Dan Gibbs, who will run for Summit County commissioner – to say closer to home and draw a higher salary.
Hurlbert — who worked his way up from an intern in the DA’s office beginning in 1993 until he was appointed in 2002 to replace then-DA Michael Goodbee (now a district judge in Adams and Broomfield counties) – managed to steer clear of most partisan brawls in his district.
He refused to prosecute a man accused of assaulting then Vice-President Dick Cheney during a conservative confab in Beaver Creek, and he also stayed out of a highly partisan scrum between former Democratic Eagle County commissioner Arn Menconi and his Republican nemesis, commissioner Tom Stone, who later unsuccessfully sought the Colorado Republican Party chairmanship.
Hurlbert is part of a Republican plan to reverse the current 21-14 Democratic majority in the state Senate, but the lifelong skier and mountaineer who lives in Summit County may not tow the party line on environmental issues, telling the Summit Daily News, “I’d like to think I’m pretty green too: I grew up in these mountains, camping and hiking.”