Court Opinions- Jun 18, 2018

In re People v. Shank

Alyse Shank was charged with three drug offenses, including alleged distribution. Shank was appointed a public defender. Later, the state brought a civil forfeiture action related to the criminal charges. Shank’s appointed public defender tried to represent her in the civil forfeiture proceedings. The state tried to disqualify the public defender, saying they were out of their jurisdiction. 

This case raises the question if, in a civil forfeiture case, an indigent person can be represented by a public defender. Shank’s argument is that the statute that allows a public defender to represent indigent people in criminal proceedings contains a general grant of authority to represent a person in any proceedings when the public defender deems representing the indigent person is in the interest of justice. The court rules that the referenced statute gives public defenders the ability to be involved in civil forfeiture cases.

Colorow Health Care v. Fischer

Charlotte Fischer was admitted to a nursing home where she was given many forms that her daughter signed on her behalf. Included in these forms was one regarding arbitration of certain legal disputes. The Health Care Availability Act mandates that such agreements must have a four-paragraph notice with at least 10-point font and bold lettering. In this case the notice was in 12-point font but was not bolded.

Upon Fischer’s death, her family sued Colorow Health Care for wrongful death. In court, the health care provider moved to compel arbitration, the trial court denied, and the Court of Appeals affirmed as the notice did not strictly match the 10-point font and bolded regulation.

The court reversed the lower courts’ rulings. The section of the HCAA with the regulation in question only demands “substantial compliance.” The court said the printing of the notice in this case was sufficient.

Verigan v. People

This case is to help determine if the U.S. Supreme Court’s fractured ruling in Missouri v. Seibert set a precedent. 

After Kimberlie Verigan’s car was pulled over for a traffic stop, police who believed they saw potential contraband searched it. Verigan was then questioned without first being read a Miranda warning. As a result of that questioning, she admitted to possession of methamphetamines, which led to her arrest. After she was taken to the police station, she was read her rights, and she waived them and again confessed to the drug possession.

In court, Verigan moved to have her statements suppressed as her second confession was obtained in a two-stage interrogation that was ruled unacceptable in Seibert. The trial court denied her motion, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The appellate court argued that the fractured ruling of Seibert did not have a majority opinion showing how the law should be applied. That court used a prior and similar U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Oregon v. Elstad, as a guideline. That case gave the appellate court a reason to say that Verigan’s admissions were given voluntarily and were admissible. 

The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court but for a different, and more common, reason. The court’s reasoning while using Seibert was that the officers did not intentionally conduct a two-step interrogation in order to undermine the effectiveness of the Miranda warnings. The ruling also states that the Elstad ruling applies, as both of Verigan’s statements were completely voluntary. The court affirms the appellate court’s ruling that the statements were admissible.

Rocky Mountain Exploration Inc. v. Davis Graham & Stubbs 

The dispute instigating this case comes from the selling of oil and gas between companies. Rocky Mountain Exploration Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture Group — referred to as RMEI — sold oil and gas assets to Lario Oil and Gas Company. Lario was acting on behalf of Tracker Resource Exploration and its affiliates. The respondents represented Tracker in the transaction.

Prior to the transaction, RMEI had a business relationship with Tracker involving the assets eventually sold to Lario. There had been a falling out, as Tracker did not offer RMEI a high enough price for RMEI’s oil and gas assets.

In the transaction between RMEI and Lario, Lario assigned a majority of the oil and gas interests to Tracker. Lario and Tracker did not disclose to RMEI that Tracker was involved.

Davis Graham & Stubbs and attorney Gregory Danielson represented Tracker during the sale to Lario. The firm was heavily involved with forming the logistics of the sale, but no one told RMEI they were representing Tracker.

RMEI learned about Tracker’s involvement when Tracker quickly sold its portion of the assets. RMEI sued Tracker, Lario, and Davis Graham & Stubbs mainly for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and civil conspiracy. RMEI sought to avoid its contract with Lario. The claims against Tracker and Lario were settled out of court. Davis Graham & Stubbs moved for summary judgment on the claims RMEI had against them, which was granted.

RMEI appealed in order for consideration on several issues. First, that Lario and Davis Graham & Stubbs made a false impression that they were not involved with a party they knew RMEI wouldn’t do business with; second, whether a clause in the Lario transaction agreements gave sufficient notice that Lario acted on behalf of another party; third, if prior agreements between RMEI and Tracker negated all previous joint ventures and fiduciary obligations between them; fourth, if RMEI had a viable claim against Davis Graham & Stubbs for fraud; and finally, if RMEI can avoid the sale based on alleged statements made after the sale agreement was signed but prior to closing the deal.

The court addressed the first two issues by saying the clause in question made it clear that Lario had partners that would get a portion of the assets. Since RMEI’s contract avoidance argument is based solely on that Tracker was undisclosed, the argument and the civil conspiracy claim against Davis Graham & Stubbs fail. In response to the third issue, the agreements between RMEI and Tracker expressly disavowed any joint ventures and obligations between them. To answer the fourth issue, RMEI did not demonstrate requisite false representation to support a viable fraud claim against Davis Graham & Stubbs.

In re People v. Sir Mario Owens

The issue at hand is whether the Colorado Independent has presumptive access to records filed with a court. The court makes a distinction between access of judicial proceedings and access to records. 

In 2008, Sir Mario Owens was sentenced to death for first-degree murder. His motion for post-conviction relief and his motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s Office were denied. The trial court placed a protective order sealing portions of the post-conviction motions practice.

In 2017, the Colorado Independent filed a motion to unseal the records, the district court denied the motion. The petitioner filed for relief based on the argument that presumptive access to judicial records is a constitutional guarantee.

Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Colorado Supreme Court has ever held that records are under the same rules as proceedings. The court concluded that criminal justice records do not have the same accessibility as proceedings, access that is guaranteed by either the First Amendment or Article II, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution.

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