Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
In re Colorado v. Cortes- Gonzalez
Jared Cortes-Gonzalez entered into a global disposition that required him to plead guilty in four felony cases, including two in which he faced complaints to revoke his probation. The plea agreement indicated that, while the sentences would be within the court’s discretion, the cumulative prison term would not exceed twenty years. Two weeks later, Cortes-Gonzalez filed a “Motion to Consider 35-C,” alleging that his attorney (the “public defender”) had provided ineffective assistance by failing to accurately advise him of the plea agreement’s potential punishment. In April 2021, alternate defense counsel submitted a supplemental Crim. P. 35(c) motion. The prosecution asked the district court to issue an order finding a “waiver of all confidential attorney-client privileges or relationships affected by the pursuit” of the Crim. P. 35(c) ineffective assistance claim. The court granted the motion, and the prosecution served an subpoena duces tecum (“SDT”) on the public defender to compel the production records in her possession related to Cortes-Gonzalez’s four cases. The public defender objected to the SDT. The issue presented to the Colorado Supreme Court in this case related to the attorney-client privilege in the context of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court held: (1) whenever a defendant alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant automatically waives the attorney-client privilege, as well as any other confidentiality, between counsel and the defendant, but only with respect to the information that is related to the ineffective assistance claim; (2) the procedures set forth in Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V) in no way modify section 18-1-417, C.R.S. (2021); (3) it is improper for prosecutors to request an order or use a Crim. P. 17 subpoena duces tecum (“SDT”) to attempt to access the confidential information covered by section 18-1-417(1); and (4) the prosecution doesn’t have an inherent right to an in camera review of the allegedly ineffective counsel’s case file - even if the purpose of the review is to ensure that all the information subject to the waiver will be produced. After any in camera review, the court must disclose to the prosecution claim-related information not previously produced. View "In re Colorado v. Cortes- Gonzalez" on Justia Law
In re Francis v. Wegener
The Colorado Supreme Court enjoined Robert Francis, whether acting individually or on behalf of a trust or some other entity, from ever again proceeding pro se as a proponent of a claim (i.e., as a plaintiff, third-party claimant, cross-claimant, or counter-claimant) in any present or future litigation in the state courts of Colorado. "While the Colorado Constitution confers upon every person an undisputed right of access to our state courts, that right isn’t absolute. A party’s constitutional right of access to the courts must sometimes yield to the constitutional right of other litigants and the public to have justice administered without denial or delay. Such is the case when courts are called upon to curb the deleterious impact that duplicative and baseless pro se litigation has on finite judicial resources." Francis abused the judicial process for the purpose of harassing his adversaries "for the better part of a decade." State courts warned, reprimanded, and sanctioned Francis. Even the suspension of his law license failed to deter his "appalling conduct." Under the circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded "the extraordinary injunction requested is amply justified. Of course, Francis may still obtain access to judicial relief—he just may not do so without legal representation." View "In re Francis v. Wegener" on Justia Law
Colorado v. Arellano
The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review in this interlocutory appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's office. Erica Arellano was charged with second degree murder for shooting and killing her boyfriend, M.H. Arellano claimed that, during the relationship, M.H. perpetrated domestic violence on her and that self-defense would be a critical issue and the crux of Arellano’s defense. A.H. was an employee of the district attorney’s office and was married to, but separated from, M.H. at the time of his death. A.H. was a potentially significant witness in this case because she had (and already provided to the district attorney’s office) information tending to undermine Arellano’s claim of self-defense. In light of A.H.’s relationship with the district attorney’s office and the significance of her testimony to this case, Arellano filed a motion to disqualify the district attorney’s office under section 20-1-107(2), C.R.S. (2020). The district court held a hearing on this motion and, in a lengthy and detailed bench ruling, found that, on the facts presented, special circumstances existed making it unlikely that Arellano could receive a fair trial. The court thus granted Arellano’s motion to disqualify. The State then filed this interlocutory appeal. The Supreme Court determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in disqualifying the district attorney's office, thus affirming the court's order and remanding this case for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Arellano" on Justia Law
Colorado v. Kent
The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review in this interlocutory appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying the Fifth Judicial District Attorney's office. The district attorney and the elected coroner of Lake County, Colorado, Shannon Kent, did not get along. Brown prosecuted Kent for perjury, a class 4 felony, and second degree official misconduct, a class 1 petty offense. After the case had been pending for approximately nine months, Kent filed a motion to disqualify Brown’s office, arguing that he was unlikely to receive a fair trial based on Brown’s personal interest in the case and the existence of special circumstances. Following briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the motion. The trial court determined each special circumstance, “in and of itself,” did not warrant disqualification, but “viewed as a totality,” sufficed for the exceptional remedy sought by Kent. The Supreme Court determined the district attorney's office should not have been disqualified, finding the trial court failed to adequately explain how the circumstances in question, though individually inadequate to warrant disqualification, justified the extraordinary relief requested when considered together. "And the record before us reflects that Kent plainly failed to satisfy his burden of establishing that he would be unlikely to receive a fair trial if Brown’s office continues prosecuting this case. ... Even assuming the circumstances at issue 'may cast doubt' upon Brown’s 'motives and strategies' in this case, 'they do not play a part in whether [Kent] will receive a fair trial.'" View "Colorado v. Kent" on Justia Law
In the Matter of Ryan L. Kamada
The Colorado Supreme Court considered the amended recommendation of the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (“Commission”) that now-former District Court Judge Ryan Kamada be sanctioned by public censure for violations of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct that occurred while he was serving as a judicial officer. The recommendation concludes that then-Judge Kamada’s conduct violated the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 1, Rule 1.1(A) (requiring a judge to comply with the law), Rule 1.2 (requiring a judge to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary), Rule 1.3 (prohibiting abuse of the prestige of judicial office); Canon 2, Rule 2.9 (prohibiting ex parte communications), Rule 2.10 (prohibiting judicial statements on pending cases); and Canon 3, (prohibiting the intentional disclosure of nonpublic judicial information). Having considered the full record, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission properly found that then-Judge Kamada violated numerous provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Had Kamada not already resigned his position, removal from office would have been an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. Because he has resigned, the Court concurred with the Commission’s recommendation that Kamada should have been publicly censured. View "In the Matter of Ryan L. Kamada" on Justia Law
Freirich v. Rabin
When Louis Rabin died, he left everything to his widow, Claudine. She was also named as the personal representative to manage his estate in probate. Louis’s former wife, Suyue Rabin, made a claim against the estate based on a couple of promissory notes. These notes totaled $200,000 and were made payable to Suyue upon Louis’s death, and were executed while Louis was married to Claudine. Claudine didn’t know the notes existed until Suyue made the claim. Claudine asked Louis’s longtime attorney, Mark Freirich, for all of Louis’s legal files, most of which had nothing to do with the notes. He refused, citing confidentiality concerns. She then subpoenaed the files. When Freirich refused, a lawsuit was filed, reaching the Colorado Supreme Court. After review, the Court held: (1) Colorado’s Probate Code did not grant a personal representative a general right to take possession of all of a decedent’s legal files as “property” of the estate; (2) a decedent’s lawyer was ordinarily prohibited from disclosing a decedent’s legal files, even to the personal representative; but (3) a decedent’s lawyer could provide the personal representative with otherwise privileged or confidential documents if such disclosure was necessary to settle the decedent’s estate. The Court of Appeals erred in reversing the district court's order quashing the subpoena. That portion of the appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Freirich v. Rabin" on Justia Law
Persichette v. Owners Ins. Co.
William Persichette, through Franklin D. Azar & Associates, P.C., brought an underinsured-motorist (“UIM”) action against Owners Insurance Company (“Owners”) for allegedly handling his insurance claim unreasonably and in bad faith. About three months later, Persichette retained Mark Levy of Levy Law, P.C. (collectively “Levy Law”) as co-counsel. Owners promptly moved to disqualify Levy Law pursuant to Colo. RPC Rule 1.9(a) on the ground that Levy Law was Owners’ longtime former counsel and had a conflict of interest. The district court denied the motion, finding that Levy Law’s representation of Persichette was not “substantially related” to Levy Law’s decade-plus representation of Owners. Owners then filed a C.A.R. 21 petition invoking the Colorado Supreme Court's original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in denying Owners’ motion to disqualify, and reversed. View "Persichette v. Owners Ins. Co." on Justia Law
M.A.W. v. The People in Interest of A.L.W.
In June 2016, shortly after the child’s birth, the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services initiated this case based on evidence that the child’s mother was using drugs and that both father and the child’s mother were missing the child’s cues, were homeless, and had previously been involved in child welfare cases. The child was placed with maternal relatives. As pertinent here, the juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected as to father based on father’s admission that he needed support and services and that the child’s environment was injurious to her welfare. At the first hearing in the juvenile court, father appeared in custody following a recent arrest. The court appointed counsel for him and approved an initial treatment plan. Two months later, the court conducted another hearing, and father again appeared in custody, this time based on new drug possession charges. The Department filed a motion to terminate father’s parental rights. In this petition, the Department alleged that (1) father did not comply with his treatment plan, and the treatment plan failed; (2) no additional period of time would allow for the successful completion of the treatment plan; (3) father was an unfit parent; (4) father’s conduct or condition was unlikely to change within a reasonable period of time; and (5) there were no less drastic alternatives to termination, which would be in the child’s best interests. The matter then proceeded to a termination hearing; father was incarcerated. When father did not appear for the hearing, father’s counsel told the court that father was “on a writ at Arapahoe County and he refused the writ so he did not want to appear today.” Father’s counsel did not seek a continuance to ensure father’s presence, and the court found that father had voluntarily absented himself from the court. Mother was denied her request for a continuance. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was similar to that decided in its companion, Colorado in Interest of A.R., 2020 CO 10, __ P.3d __. Here, as in A.R., the Supreme Court was asked to decide (1) the correct standard for determining whether a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffective performance and (2) whether an appellate court may vacate a juvenile court’s decision in a dependency and neglect proceeding on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel without remanding the case for further evidentiary development. Applying those principles here, the Court concluded the juvenile court correctly applied Strickland’s prejudice prong to father’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims and that the court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting those claims. View "M.A.W. v. The People in Interest of A.L.W." on Justia Law
Colorado in Interest of A.R.
The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on the contention of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a dependency and neglect proceeding. In 2016, petitioner A.R.’s (the “child’s”) paternal step-grandmother took him to the emergency room to receive treatment for scabies. A physician who treated the then-six-month-old child determined that the degree of scabies on the child evinced a case of neglect, and, later that night, another doctor confirmed that the child also had a skull fracture. The Department of Human Services subsequently initiated this dependency and neglect proceeding, and the juvenile court granted the Department continued custody of the child. Later, the juvenile court held an adjudicatory hearing with respect to both parents. When mother did not appear, her counsel told the court that he had made arrangements with mother to attend the hearing, but did not know why she did not appear. Apparently in an effort to move the case forward, and after speaking with counsel for both mother and the child’s father (who also did not appear), the Department asked the court for leave to amend the Department’s dependency and neglect petition to include an allegation that the child was dependent or neglected through no fault of the child’s parents and to allow the Department to rest on the Report of Investigation filed with the petition. The child’s guardian ad litem (“GAL”) agreed with this procedure, stating that it was in the child’s best interests to “move forward,” and the court therefore entered a no-fault adjudication and approved the proposed treatment plan. Mother did not appeal this adjudication. The mother challenged the ultimate termination of her rights to A.R. The Supreme Court was asked to decide: (1) whether, in a direct appeal from a judgment terminating parental rights, an appellate court may consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s performance at an adjudicatory hearing; (2) the correct standard for determining whether a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffective performance; and (3) whether an appellate court may vacate a juvenile court’s decision in a dependency and neglect proceeding on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel without remanding the case for further evidentiary development. The Supreme Court held an appellate court may consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s performance at an adjudicatory hearing only when the party claiming ineffective assistance did not have a full and fair opportunity to assert such a claim immediately after his or her child was adjudicated dependent and neglected, and outlined the standard for determining ineffective performance in a dependency and neglect context. Applying these determinations to the facts and claims presented, the Court affirmed the judgment below (on different grounds), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado in Interest of A.R." on Justia Law
In re Colorado v. Kilgore
The district court in this case sua sponte ordered the parties to exchange exhibits thirty days before trial. The State charged Joshua Kilgore with two counts of felony sexual assault. In the minute order it issued following the arraignment, the court indicated, among other things, that “exhibits [were] to be exchanged 30 days before trial” (“disclosure requirement” or “disclosure order”). The disclosure requirement was not prompted by a party’s request and appeared to have been part of the court’s standard case-management practice. A couple of months later, Kilgore filed an objection, arguing that the disclosure requirement violated his attorney’s confidentiality obligations, the attorney-client privilege, the attorney work-product doctrine, and his due process rights (including his right to make the prosecution meet its burden of proof, his right to a fair trial, and his right to the effective assistance of counsel). Furthermore, Kilgore argued Rule 16 neither required him to disclose, nor entitled the prosecution to receive, his exhibits before trial. The court overruled Kilgore’s objection, reasoning that requiring Kilgore to disclose his exhibits prior to trial would “foster efficiency and allow for a fair trial” without running afoul of his rights. Any exhibits not disclosed before trial, warned the court, would “not be used at trial.” Kilgore sought reconsideration of this ruling, but the court declined to alter it. Thereafter, Kilgore submitted a sealed motion detailing the specific reasons he opposed disclosing a particular exhibit. Despite having this additional information, though, the court stood by its earlier ruling. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded a district court could not rely on its case-management discretion to order disclosures that exceed the discovery authorized by Rule 16 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, nor could a court require disclosures that infringe on an accused’s constitutional rights. In this instance, the district court erred in ordering Kilgore to disclose his exhibits before trial. View "In re Colorado v. Kilgore" on Justia Law