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Landing on her feet 

DA's former No. 2 lands job as El Paso County staff attorney

The Falcon pizzeria's liquor license lapsed on Christmas Day, and an employee served beer to an undercover officer two weeks later.

So El Paso County commissioners need to mete out punishment and decide whether to renew the license for Ciao Bella Pizza and Pastaria. Amy Mullaney summarizes the case for them and weighs legal precedent before recommending that the business say ciao to its liquor license for seven days.

But first she finds out she must adjust the microphone in the commissioners' meeting room she's told they can't hear her.

"I'm not used to mikes," she says with a quiet laugh.

Indeed, there's a lot the 38-year-old Mullaney will have to get used to in her new job in the county attorney's office, where she will represent and advise county leaders on land-use matters, lawsuits and anything else that might crop up.

Her former job, for which she was paid $120,000 a year, was a bit more prominent.

Just last fall, she won a high-profile case that sent Deborah Nicholls to prison for three life sentences, punishment for killing her three young children in a 2003 arson fire.

But as district attorney John Newsome's second-in-command, the writing was on the wall when Newsome was caught quaffing beer on work hours and driving his county-owned vehicle afterward. (Mullaney, incidentally, was with him that spring evening last year.)

So after Dan May took office, having beaten Newsome in August's Republican primary, Mullaney pirouetted to the county attorney's office, where she now is making $105,000 a year.

Not bad, you might say, for handling liquor license renewals.

County Attorney Bill Louis concedes "there's not a lot of adrenaline in the work." But he says that beyond issues related to, say, drainage or drinking, Mullaney will probably branch out to handle some employee matters as well.

The main reason she was hired, Louis explains, is her experience in the courtroom. Without an experienced litigator in the office, the county had to pay around $200,000 in 2008 to hire outside attorneys. By hiring Mullaney and keeping more legal work "in-house," Louis says, the county could halve the bill for outside legal work in 2009.

And having someone inside the office with extensive courtroom experience, Louis contends, makes the county a less-appealing target for lawsuits.

The spot Mullaney is filling actually had been vacant since January 2008, when one of the county's five civil attorneys retired. County budget problems meant holding off on hiring a replacement until 2009, Louis says. He also now has one other attorney away on maternity leave.

But the posting that scored Mullaney her new job conveniently appeared the week of Dec. 22, and was open only to county employees. Louis says Mullaney was the only applicant for the position, but he's adamant there was nothing improper about her hiring.

"I would call it the county attorney's office being able to take advantage of an opportunity," he says.

Mullaney did not return a call asking for comment on how she likes her new job.

lane@csindy.com

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