Court Opinions- Mar 11, 2019

People v. Gonzales

This case addresses the standards for authenticating an audio recording under Colorado Rule of Evidence 901. Daniel Gonzales appealed his convictions for first-degree murder with intent and after deliberation, first degree felony murder, abuse of a corpse, stalking, arson, burglary and aggravated robbery. 

He claimed that the trial court did not comply with the authentication rules prescribed by a division of the Court of Appeals in People v. Baca when it admitted a voicemail purportedly left by Gonzales for his murder victim. 

The Colorado Court of Appeals rejected Gonzales’ claim because, to the extent Baca purports to establish an exclusive rule for the authentication of a voice recording, the court declined to follow it. The court also concluded that when the flexible principles of authentication set forth in CRE 901 are applied, the voicemail was properly authenticated. The Court of Appeals rejected all of Gonzales’ and affirmed.

People v. Roehrs

Dana Roehrs was an interested party in a dependency and neglect hearing presided over by Judge Theresa Cisneros. At the hearing, Sergeant Couch of the Teller County Sheriff’s Department testified concerning Roehrs’s presence at the scene of an investigation that he was conducting. During his testimony, Roehrs stood up, walked toward the witness stand and called him a liar. Roehrs was asked to leave the courtroom and later threatened Couch outside the courtroom. 

Roehrs was charged with retaliation against a witness, harassment and intimidating a witness. 

As the presiding judge at the dependency and neglect hearing, Cisneros witnessed some of the behavior and statements that were at issue in the later criminal trial on these charges. Despite that, Cisneros was assigned to preside over the trial on the criminal charges. Roehrs’ counsel moved to recuse Cisneros on the grounds that she had personal knowledge of the facts to be tried and was a material witness to Roehrs’ conduct, so there was an appearance of bias or prejudice.

Cisneros denied the motion and ruled that Roehrs had failed to prove bias or personal knowledge of disputed facts. On appeal, Roehrs contended that the trial court erred in denying her motion to recuse and in imposing an unduly punitive sentence. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial based on the denial of the motion to recuse and did not reach the sentencing issue.

People v. Williams

Wenston Williams appealed his judgment of conviction entered after a jury found him guilty of aggravated robbery and second-degree assault. He also appealed the sentence imposed after the trial court adjudicated him a habitual criminal. 

The Court of Appeals considered whether two guilty pleas entered at the same hearing constitute two separate convictions for purposes of the habitual criminal sentencing statute when the pleas were to two charges brought in separate charging documents but later joined for trial. The court concluded that when two charges would have been tried together in one trial but for the defendant’s guilty pleas, they cannot be considered “separately brought and tried” under the habitual criminal sentencing statute. 

The court affirmed the judgment, reversed the sentence and remanded with directions to impose a new sentence and to correct the mittimus.

Colorado Real Estate Commission v. Vizzi

The Colorado Court of Appeals considered whether a licensed real estate broker can contract away his statutory obligations as a transaction-broker under section 12-61-807(2) of the Colorado Revised Statutes. The court found that he could not and affirmed the final agency order of the Colorado Real Estate Commission disciplining licensed real estate broker John Vizzi for failing to fulfill those statutory obligations. 

The court also concluded that the commission’s enforcement of that statute against Vizzi does not violate federal antitrust laws. 

As a result, the court affirmed the commission’s order.

People v. Knoeppchen

Billy Knoeppchen appealed the district court’s order denying his motion to vacate a restitution order. His appeal required the Court of Appeals to determine whether his challenge involved a claim that his sentence was not authorized by law or was a challenge to the manner in which sentence was imposed. The court decided it is the latter and that the challenge is untimely and affirmed.

Heotis v. Colorado State Board of Education

The district court had reviewed and upheld a final order of the Colorado State Board of Education denying a teacher’s license renewal application of  Sharman Heotis because while she was employed as a public school teacher, she did not report to authorities that her then-husband had sexually abused their daughter from the time their daughter was 3 years old until she was 11. The board determined that her failure to report the abuse amounted to “unethical behavior because it offended the morals of the community” according to Colorado’s Teacher Licensing Act.

On appeal, Heotis contended that the Teacher Licensing Act is unconstitutional, both facially and as applied to her, because it does not provide for a range of sanctions for misconduct. She also contended that the evidence in the record did not support the board’s conclusion that she “engaged in unethical conduct because it offended the morals of the community” on the ground that she learned of the abuse in her role as a parent, not as a teacher. 

The Court of Appeals concluded that a public school teacher’s reporting duties do not end when he or she leaves the classroom and affirmed the district court’s judgment.

People in Interest of S.K.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, S.R. and C.K. appealed the juvenile court judgment terminating their parent-child legal relationships with S.K. To resolve the parents’ arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeals considered the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ADA, and in limited circumstances, section 504 require public entities to make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities.

A division of the Court of Appeals had considered this requirement of the ADA in the context of termination because an appropriate treatment plan could not be devised to address the parent’s mental impairment. This case presented a question of how the requirement to make reasonable accommodations relates to termination based on a disabled parent’s lack of success with a treatment plan, unfitness, and unlikelihood of change. The Court of Appeals concluded that a juvenile court must consider reasonable accommodations in deciding whether such a parent’s treatment plan was appropriate and whether reasonable efforts were made to rehabilitate the parent. 

The court held that the juvenile court properly considered reasonable accommodations for the parents’ disabilities as part of its conclusions that the parents’ treatment plans were appropriate and the Gunnison County Department of Health and Human Services had made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate them. 

The court also rejected the parents’ remaining arguments regarding parental fitness, likelihood of change and a less drastic alternative to termination. The court affirmed the termination judgment.

Burren v. Industrial Claims Appeals Office

This workers’ compensation action required the Court of Appeals to address whether a claimant can be placed at maximum medical improvement by an administrative law judge despite the lack of an MMI finding from any treating physician or the physician conducting the division-sponsored independent medical examination. The court concluded that an ALJ cannot determine MMI when neither a treating physician nor a DIME physician has placed the injured worker at MMI. The court set aside the order of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office upholding the ALJ’s order and remanded the matter to the panel to return the case to the ALJ to enter an order consistent with this opinion.

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