Legal Issues

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Judge Richard Gabriel will soon be sworn in as Colorado's next State Supreme Court Justice. He currently serves on the Colorado Court of Appeals. He received his undergrad degree at Yale University and went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. He talked to statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland about his view of politics in the judicial process, why he became a lawyer, and some of his significant cases. 

Highlights from the Interview:

On Criticisms that Judges and Decisions are Too Political

The La Plata County Sheriff's Office is releasing more information in the case of Dylan Redwine, the Monument 13-year-old who disappeared in southwestern Colorado in 2012.  His remains were found less than a year later.

Earlier this summer, the sheriff's office said they had a person of interest.  Investigators are now naming that person as Mark Redwine, Dylan's father.  The county coroner has also amended Dylan's death certificate to reflect "homicide" as the cause of death, as opposed to "undetermined."

Newscast for Friday, 8/14/15, 5:32 PM:

  • Officials in Colorado have reopened the Animas River to boating.
     
  • A lieutenant colonel at Fort Carson faces a court-martial on charges of viewing child pornography on a government computer while in Afghanistan.
     
  • A recent report from Colorado State University says if Great Plains farmers adopt more conservation practices, their carbon emissions could be drastically reduced.

UPDATE:  Without a consensus from the jury between life in prison and the death penalty, James Holmes receives the sentence of life in prison without the  possibility of parole.  

Original Post:

Newscast for Thursday, 8/6/15, 5:32 PM

  • Jurors are now in deliberation in the sentencing phase of convicted Colorado theater shooter James Holmes. Prosecuting and defense attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments today.  Holmes could be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole for killing 12 people and attempting to kill 70 others.
     
  • A huge spill of hazardous mine waste has contaminated the Animas River, which runs through Durango. 
     

Current and former Colorado state Democratic lawmakers are praising the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same sex marriage nationwide. In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Today is an amazing day for America and equality, said Democratic former Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, who served as Colorado’s first gay speaker and helped pass a bill to make civil unions legal in the state.

"I knew we would get to this day in my life time, but never thought it would come so quickly. I am so proud of our nation's ability to move towards full equality for all people. The work is not done to end all discrimination but today was a gigantic step forward."

Brett Levin Flickr / Creative Commons

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that companies can legally fire employees for using medical marijuana, even off duty.

The decision is based on the case of Brandon Coats. He is a quadriplegic who takes medical marijuana to control muscle spasms in his legs. Dish Network fired him from his job as a customer service representative in 2010 after he failed a random drug test. Coats then sued for unlawful termination. Business groups praised the court's decision.

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A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for shootings, deaths, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds was signed into law on Wednesday. Previously schools had absolute immunity.

The law would cap damages at $900,000 for multiple injuries per incident. Governor Hickenlooper says the state has experienced its fair share of tragedies in schools and hopes the law will make students safer.

El Paso County Commissioners have voted to approve two settlements in claims brought against the Sheriff’s office, former Sheriff Terry Maketa, and former Undersheriff Paula Presley.  The claims allege lost income and benefits due to a hostile work environment.
 

County Attorney Amy Folsom said at Tuesday morning’s commissioner’s meeting that her office has analyzed the risk of liability and evaluated the potential cost of litigation in each case.

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Colorado will soon have a felony DUI law on the books.  On the final day of the legislative session, the Senate passed House Bill 1043 [.pdf] to create a felony DUI for habitual drunk driving offenders. It passed the Senate 34-1.

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A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for school shootings, death, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It passed on a vote of 10-3.

Currently public schools are not liable. Legislative leaders in both parties are sponsoring the change, spurred in part by the death of Claire Davis in 2013. Davis attended Arapahoe High School in Littleton when a fellow student shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

D. Utterback

Governor John Hickenlooper recently sat down with reporters to discuss how the legislative session is going so far. Lawmakers are just past the midpoint of the four-month long session.

Which bills are being delayed?

How is the Governor handling split legislative control?

Here are a couple highlights from the conversation:

Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press

Two Republican religious freedom bills drew strong opposition from gay rights groups, civil liberties organizations and members of the business community Monday. The first bill, known as House Bill 1171 [.pdf], would have forbade government officials from constraining the exercise of religion had it not been struck down in committee.

The second bill, House Bill 1161 [.pdf], would have protected people from facing penalties for refusing to violate their beliefs and was also defeated.

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The sponsor of a proposal to put guardrails around the use of drones for non- government purposes asked lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee to delay a vote on the bill on Tuesday.

“I would work with members of the committee to make sure it truly protects the privacy of people in the state,” said Representative Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park).

After nearly two hours of testimony that focused on emerging technologies and a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, many lawmakers said still they had questions about the bill.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force will deliver its final recommendations Friday. The group is proposing nine changes to try and mitigate the impacts of energy development near communities. The task force also wants local governments to be more involved in developing large drill sites, but stopped short of allowing cities and counties to adopt stricter rules than the state standards. Bente Birkeland sat down with the Governor to discuss his thoughts on the group’s work and some of the backlash from members of his own party.

Brett Levin Flickr / Creative Commons

The state of Colorado is facing new lawsuits over recreational marijuana legalization. The Washington DC based Safe Streets Alliance is suing the state in federal court to try and close down the industry.

“It is illegal under federal law to sell marijuana and in this country federal law is the supreme law of the land,” said David Thompson, the lead attorney for the Safe Streets Alliance.

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A measure that would require cities and counties to compensate mineral owners who aren’t able to develop oil and gas because of local regulations cleared its first committee at the statehouse on Thursday. Bente Birkeland has more:
 

D. Utterback

Democratic lawmakers in Colorado recently introduced a measure to allow terminally ill patients to take medication to end their lives. The patients must be given a prognosis from two different physicians giving them less than six months to live.

Why do supporters say it’s the compassionate choice?

Who strongly opposes it?

Bente Birkeland discusses the proposal with statehouse reporters.

Some key points from the conversation:

Precautions in Place

Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press

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A bill to allow terminally ill patients to take their own lives was introduced at the state capitol Tuesday. Supporters say they want to give patients an option to die with dignity.
 

House Bill 1135 [.pdf] would let people who have less than six months to live take a prescription to die. 

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Republicans at the state capitol defeated a bill on Wednesday that sought to clean up and harmonize the state’s civil unions and gay marriage laws. Lawmakers said they wanted to wait and see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Bente Birkeland has more.
 

 

Investigators say there’s not enough evidence to file charges in connection with last year’s devastating Black Forest Fire.

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Update: 10/7/14, 10:38 am

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office has announced same-sex marriage licenses are available at the clerk's office, effective immediately.  In a statement, the office says they received "final clearance" from the office of Attorney General John Suthers.

State energy regulators have dropped their lawsuit against the city of Longmont for adopting stricter oil and gas rules that Colorado officials argued infringed on the state’s rights. Bente Birkeland has more…

Meanwhile, a judge in Fort Collins today ruled that that city's ban on fracking violates state law.

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A federal judge in Colorado struck down the state’s gay marriage ban Wednesday. The judge put a temporary hold on the decision so the state can appeal it to a higher court. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.
 

The judge in this case has issued a stay until late August as part of the ruling to give the state a chance to appeal.  While Attorney General John Suthers and Governor John Hickenlooper both requested a stay so the issue could eventually be decided by the U. S. Supreme Court, both agreed the state ban should be declared unconstitutional.

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A federal judge in Denver said Colorado’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional and three county clerks have been issuing marriage licenses in the state. Bente Birkeland talks to statehouse reporters about the changes and what it means politically.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa is facing allegations of inappropriate behavior, including creating a hostile work environment and sexual discrimination.  Several department commanders say the sheriff had affairs with three subordinates, abused those who questioned the alleged relationships, and removed all oversight of the department's $60 million budget.  

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Colorado voters are likely to decide whether law enforcement agencies need a warrant to search electronic records, such as data stored on cell phones. Lawmakers are trying to refer a measure to the November ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court heard hearing two cases on the issue yesterday. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.
 

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A bipartisan committee at the statehouse has moved forward a bill to make it easier to remove people’s mug shots from commercial websites if they were never convicted of the crime for which they were arrested.
 

Supporters of House Bill 1047 say it’s wrong for businesses to post mug shots and force people to pay to take them down.

Cantaloupe Farmers Sentenced to Probation

Jan 28, 2014
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Cantaloupe farmers in eastern Colorado responsible for a deadly outbreak of listeria two years ago were sentenced today after pleading guilty to six misdemeanor charges in October. KRCC’s Nat Stein has more.
 

A federal magistrate in Denver sentenced brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen to five years of probation, starting with six months of home detention. Each brother also must pay $150,000 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service.

Cantaloupe Farmers Seek Probation

Jan 17, 2014
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Two Colorado cantaloupe farmers are asking a federal judge for probation rather than jail time.  Two years ago, a deadly listeria outbreak was traced back to cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms in southeastern Colorado. Brothers Eric and Ryan Jensen own the farm and in October pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce. These federal charges can carry penalties of up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

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