Court Opinions- Dec 14, 2020

In the Matter of Ryan L. Kamada

In June 2020, Now-former Judge Ryan Kamada pled guilty in U.S. District Court to obstructing the proceedings of a federal agency, and in August, after he conditionally admitted to misconduct in his capacity as an attorney in a stipulation filed jointly with the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, the presiding disciplinary judge ordered his disbarment.

The circumstances leading to his guilty plea in federal court and his disbarment included a pattern of disclosing nonpublic, confidential information to his friends while serving as a magistrate and later as a judge.

Kamada was publicly censured by the Colorado Supreme Court because of various incidents of misconduct committed between 2015 and 2019, including conducting ex parte communications and disclosing nonpublic judicial information among others.

The court concluded the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline properly found that Kamada’s actions violated numerous provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. 

In its opinion, the court noted that, had Kamada not already resigned his position, removal from office would have been an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. The court agreed Kamada should be publicly censured.

People v. Arellano

Erica Arellano is charged with second-degree murder for shooting and killing her boyfriend, referred to in the opinion as “M.H.” Arellano asserted she was a victim of M.H.’s domestic violence and that she acted in self-defense.

A.H. is 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. is a potentially significant witness in this case because she has (and has 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) of the 2020 Colorado Revised Statutes. 

The district court found that, on the facts presented, special circumstances existed making it unlikely that Arellano could receive a fair trial and granted the disqualification. The People appealed.

The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in disqualifying the district attorney’s office. The district court made extensive findings of fact, all of which were amply supported by the record, correctly set forth the applicable legal standards and the court then properly applied those standards to the unique facts before it. 

The court affirmed the order and remanded the case for further proceedings. 

People v. Kent

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown and Lake County coroner Shannon Kent have a history of professional arguments. Brown is currently prosecuting 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 is unlikely to receive a fair trial based on Brown’s personal interest in the case and the existence of special circumstances. Following a briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the motion. 

The Colorado Supreme Court concluded Brown’s office should not have been disqualified. 

Because the circumstances articulated by the district court, even considered cumulatively, are not so “extreme” as to justify the “drastic” remedy of disqualification, which is reserved for “narrow circumstances,” the Supreme Court reversed the disqualification order and remanded the case for further proceedings. 

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