Court Opinions: Presiding Disciplinary Judge Opinions for September 2022

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

People v. Alonzo Christopher Payne 

Alonzo Payne was the elected district attorney in the 12th Judicial District from January 2021 to July 2022, when he resigned. While in office, Payne failed to diligently supervise his employees, including an assistant DA who Payne later fired because of complaints about the lawyer’s conduct when performing his job duties. 

In mid-2021, a Victim Rights Act subcommittee began investigating Payne’s office after hearing concerns that the office failed to keep victims informed about their cases and failed to consult with victims about plea deals and dismissals as required by Colorado’s VRA. 

The investigation also identified instances in which employees from Payne’s office ignored, belittled and shouted at victims. The VRA subcommittee recommended that Payne’s office take actions that included VRA training. During the training, Payne’s employees were unruly, directing foul language at the presenters and walking out of the training. Payne’s office didn’t resolve the VRA complaints, which were ultimately referred to the governor who appointed the Office of the Attorney General to investigate. In July 2022, AG Phil Weiser appointed a monitor to review if Payne’s office was meeting its responsibilities under the VRA. 

The AG’s investigation found that under Payne, the 12th Judicial DA’s Office accumulated a significant backlog of cases and failed to act for months on warrants involving serious crimes and domestic violence. Payne’s failure to prosecute defendants had a negative effect on law enforcement’s and the public’s willingness to report crimes, harming law enforcement efforts and the community. 

Days before a jury trial in early 2022, Payne told a named victim that his office had been unable to serve a police officer to appear at trial. Payne told the victim that pursuing the case would be futile without the officer’s testimony and the victim acquiesced to Payne dismissing the case. But Payne’s representation was false: his office had served the officer that morning. In the motion to dismiss, Payne falsely stated that the victim was unwilling to testify at trial. Payne didn’t correct his misstatements to the court or to the victim. 

Also in early 2022, Payne prosecuted a case for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. In March, he told an employee in his office that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation wanted the case to be dismissed. This statement was untrue. The prosecutor contacted the CBI agent involved in the case, who informed her that he had not told Payne that the CBI wanted the case dismissed. 

A different matter was set for a jury trial in April 2022. Payne dismissed the case on the first day of the trial, purportedly because evidence favorable to the defense wasn’t disclosed. But Payne knew of the issue at the latest nearly a week before the trial was to begin and hadn’t indicated to the court or the named victims that he would dismiss the case. He even filed jury instructions four days before the first day of trial. According to the minute order from the hearing, the court found Payne was disingenuous about the reasons for the dismissal. At the time Payne dismissed the case, 100 jurors were waiting to serve. 

That same month, Payne participated in setting a preliminary hearing in another matter. The judge traveled eight hours to convene the hearing. On the day of the preliminary hearing, however, no prosecutor from Payne’s office appeared. A prosecutor eventually joined via Webex after the court clerk contacted Payne’s office, but the prosecutor was not prepared to proceed. The hearing was reset. The judge traveled another four hours to hold the hearing, during which the parties waived the hearing for a plea offer. Payne knew the day before the hearing that the defendant planned to waive the preliminary hearing, but he took no steps to notify the judge. Had Payne alerted the judge, she wouldn’t have needed to travel to the hearing. 

In 2022, Payne didn’t properly introduce hearsay statements from a minor victim in a juvenile sexual assault case. He then failed to appear for a hearing to address the hearsay statements, assigning the matter to another prosecutor who was scheduled to handle a different docket that day and had not been prepared to address the child hearsay issue. Payne also made false statements or failed to disclose to the court and the named victim and her family accurate information about the status of the case and reasons for the dismissal. 

Finally, in 2022, during a political campaign to recall Payne from office, Payne began an investigation and filed criminal charges against the previous DA, a political rival and critic of Payne. Despite this antagonistic relationship, Payne didn’t seek an outside law enforcement agency or special prosecutor to oversee the investigation or make charging decisions. Ultimately, Payne’s actions prevented the court from making a probable cause determination in the case. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Payne’s stipulation to discipline and disbarred him, effective Oct. 26. 

People v. Veronica Reyes 

In 2013, a collections firm filed a complaint against Veronica Reyes to recover $13,784 in unpaid rent, unpaid utilities and missing and damaged property. The claims related to an office space Reyes leased with another lawyer. Reyes didn’t answer and the court entered default against her for all costs and damages. The collections firm then served on her interrogatories and requests for production. Reyes eventually provided sworn answers to this discovery, including false or incomplete interrogatory answers. 

Reyes represented that her home address was in Chihuahua, Mexico, when in fact she lived with her family in Westminster, Colorado. Reyes didn’t list her business address, home phone number and business phone number, even though the interrogatory requested that information. Reyes stated that she was unemployed, even though she was employed as a lawyer. Reyes falsely responded that she had no sources of income. Reyes failed to report her operating and trust accounts when asked for information about all of her financial accounts, including accounts over which she had signature authority. Reyes answered “N/A” when asked whether she was self-employed, even though she operated her law practice with another lawyer and accepted client payments for legal services at the time. And Reyes answered “N/A” when asked for each bank account number related to her business, again failing to provide information about her operating and trust accounts. 

In an unrelated matter, Reyes self-reported to disciplinary authorities that she hadn’t filed federal or state tax returns during the years 2016 through 2020. Reyes didn’t file her tax returns for the tax years 2018 through 2020 because she hoped to avoid paying taxes. Reyes has now filed late personal and business tax returns for those years. Based on these returns, Reyes or her firm owes approximately $58,000 in taxes before penalties and interest. 

The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved Reyes’ revised stipulation to discipline and suspended her for one year and one day, effective Sept. 30. To be reinstated to the practice of law in Colorado, Reyes must prove by clear and convincing evidence that she has been rehabilitated, has complied with all disciplinary orders and rules and is fit to practice law. 

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