Court Opinions- Apr 29, 2019

Buell v. People

Francis Buell was accused of shoplifting at a Sears Department Store in Greeley and then at a Safeway grocery story about a month and a half later. The prosecution initially charged Buell in separate cases but moved to consolidate the cases, and the trial court granted that motion.

Buell argued that the trial court abused its discretion in consolidating the two cases because, in his view, proper consolidation requires the evidence of each incident to be admissable in a separate trial of the other. 

The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Contrary to Buell’s contention, joinder does not always require the evidence of the respective incidents to be cross-admissible were there to be separate trials. To the contrary, when the cases are of the “same or similar character,” joinder under Crim. P. 8(a)(2) is proper regardless of whether the evidence would be cross-admissible in separate trials. Here, we have no difficulty in concluding that the cases were of the same or similar character because the facts of these cases closely mirrored one another. Moreover, Buell has not shown that the consolidation was prejudicial because the evidence would, in fact, have been cross-admissible in separate trials and the facts of the incidents at issue were not disputed. Rather, Buell contested only the application of law to those facts. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the division’s judgment.

Bondsteel v. People of Colorado

This case required the Supreme Court to decide whether a criminal defendant’s failure to renew at trial a pretrial objection to the prosecution’s motion to join two separately filed cases waives the defendant’s ability to challenge such joinder on appeal and, if not, whether the cases were properly joined. The court concluded that, to the extent People v. Barker and People v. Aalbu required a defendant to renew at trial a pretrial objection to joinder or motion to sever, those cases are no longer good law because the renewal obligation that they espoused is inconsistent with the current rules of criminal procedure. The court further concluded that defendant, James Bondsteel, properly preserved his objection to the joinder of the two cases filed against him.

The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in joining the cases at issue because the record supports the court’s findings that the joinder of the two cases satisfied the requirements of Crim. P. 8(a)(2) and Crim. P. 13 and the joinder did not prejudice Bondsteel.

The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the division below.

Colorado Court of Appeals

For April 25

Bjornsen v. Board of County Commissioners

Kristin Bjornsen filed claims alleging that the Board of County Commissioners of Boulder County and Frank Alexander, executive director of the Boulder County Housing Authority, violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law and the Colorado Open Records Act. She alleged that the board held executive sessions in violation of the COML and defendants improperly withheld documents she requested in violation of both the COML and CORA.

The district court granted defendants summary judgment on the executive session claims and, after a hearing, ruled that defendants properly withheld the contested documents. Bjornsen appealed both the summary judgment and document disclosure rulings.

The Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment, reversed two of the document disclosure rulings, affirmed the court’s other rulings, and remanded with directions.

Shekarchian v. Maxx Auto

Maxx Auto Recovery, Inc. appealed from a judgment entered in favor of Omid Shekarchian and his company, Nationwide Telecom US Corp, on their claim under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.

Maxx Auto runs a repossession service and impound lot. It repossessed and impounded Shekarchian’s car, then refused to return it unless Shekarchian agreed to sign a form release — before seeing the car — representing that he had “carefully examined” the car and had “made sure that there [was] no damage” and releasing Maxx Auto from any claims. 

The district court found that Maxx Auto routinely required car owners to sign the release without an opportunity to inspect their vehicles and determined that the practice violated the CCPA.

On appeal, Maxx Auto contended that the district court clearly erred in finding that it had engaged in the challenged conduct, and that, even if it had, the conduct did not violate the CCPA. It said the court applied an incorrect standard in determining that it had acted in bad faith and awarding treble damages.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Maxx Auto’s standard practice of demanding that car owners execute a release containing misrepresentations to avoid potential liability constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice under the CCPA and that the practice significantly affected the public. But, the court agreed with Maxx Auto that the lower court misapplied the standard of proof in awarding treble damages. 

The Court of Appeals reversed the damages award and remanded for reconsideration under the proper standard. In all other respects, the court affirmed the judgment.

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