A veteran El Paso County prosecutor who was demoted by newly elected 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen has resigned, joining two other longtime female prosecutors in leaving the office.
Donna Billek, a top trial attorney who handled numerous complex and high-profile cases during a 22-year tenure in Colorado Springs, officially leaves Monday, the office confirmed.
She joins former Senior Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch, who also left in May, and Chief Deputy Margaret Vellar, who gave notice she will leave in June. Billek's plans are unclear, but both Fitch and Vellar have other jobs — Fitch in the El Paso County Attorney's Office and Vellar as a newly appointed Pueblo County Court judge.
The trio are among the longest-serving women at the DA’s office, and their resignations came three months after concerns documented in The Gazette that senior-level women felt underappreciated in Allen's developing administration — a claim that the first-term district attorney has waived off in putting his mark on the office.
“When I evaluate people for leadership positions, I look at merit, I look at experience, I look at leadership traits and I also look at the willingness to take on the challenge of leadership,” Allen previously told the newspaper in fielding questions about his early moves in office.
Allen was on vacation Friday and unavailable to discuss the women’s departures, his spokesman Howard Black said, a day after the newspaper contacted the office for comment and sent a list of written questions. Billek's demotion in February forced her from a position she had held for 14 years and cut her salary from $120,000 to $100,000. The office previously declined to address the reasons for the move, saying they do not discuss personnel matters.
Sources say Fitch, a 24-year prosecutor, and Billek applied for the chief deputy district attorney position that went to Andrew Vaughan, an 11-year prosecutor who supported Allen’s candidacy. Vellar was appointed a chief deputy under Allen’s predecessor Dan May, who reached his term limit in January after 12 years in office.
Billek and Fitch declined to comment. Vellar did not immediately return a voicemail left for her at her office Friday afternoon.
Billek is a veteran of numerous murder prosecutions. In 2018, she received the Colorado District Attorneys Council’s statewide Robert R. Gallagher Jr. Award for Prosecution, also known as prosecutor of the year award, for her work on the team that prosecuted a death penalty case against double-killer Glen Law Galloway, who was ultimately sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Her demotion created a vacancy for the hiring of Dave Young, a former two-term district attorney in Broomfield and Adams counties who left office in January following what The Denver Post editorial board called a “scandal-plagued” tenure.
Young had a high-profile affair with a subordinate who later killed herself, then drew criticism from the woman’s family for declining to recuse his office from the death investigation, according to published reports. He also faced wide-ranging criticism for declining to charge the officers who placed Elijah McClain in a chokehold during a police encounter in Aurora, leading to the death of the 23-year-old unarmed Black man. Young has declined to address those cases and instead emphasized his experience in office.
The three women are part of an exodus of longtime prosecutors who have left since January, including Susan Chadderdon, Terry Sample, Michael Fisher, Jennifer Darby, Nathaniel Marsh and Matt Roche. In each case, they had to pass on scores of prosecutions to other lawyers in the office, including numerous homicides.
“These cases will continue to be assigned with experienced professional prosecutors, paralegals, legal assistants, advocates, and investigators with oversight as appropriate,” Black said.
In taking office, Allen retained May’s staff except for two longtime employees who were dismissed.
Lee Richards, a former KRDO radio journalist, was replaced as public information officer by Black, a retired Colorado Springs police lieutenant. Allen also fired former Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Lindsey, who now works in Chaffee County where he is among three prosecutors assigned to the case against Barry Morphew in the disappearance of his wife, Suzanne Morphew. Lindsey and Richards declined to comment.
In building his team, Allen selected a woman, Martha McKinney, to be assistant district attorney, his second-in-command.
Two of the four prosecutors he appointed as senior deputy district attorneys were women, according to records current as of February. Both were relative newcomers compared to other women who were passed over for promotion, records show.
Allen also promoted Reggy Short to chief deputy, selecting a prosecutor whose family was linked to more than $13,000 in campaign spending to lift Allen’s winning bid for office, the newspaper has previously reported.