by Marissa Lorenz
Filings have recently been made both for and against dismissal or the appointment of a special prosecutor in the misdemeanor case against former Kremmling Police Chief Jamie Lucas.
Motion to dismiss
June 15, a motion from Lucas’ attorney Jeffrey Eidness was filed, requesting “that this case be dismissed in its entirety, with prejudice.” Alternatively, it requested appointment of a special prosecutor “for the specific purpose of avoiding any prosecutorial misconduct and as personal and special circumstances exist.”
The motion outlines previous and potentially contentious interactions between Lucas and members of the 14th Judicial District’s Office of the District Attorney. Among those interactions was the December investigation of Lucas, requested by
DA Matt Karzen and conducted by the Fraser Winter Park Police Department, which resulted in a letter from Karzen to the Kremmling Town Board stating that the “District Attorney’s Office would ‘no longer accept any criminal cases from Chief Lucas.’”
Eidness asserts that “Mr. Karzen’s actions in that regard are unprecedented; not required by law […]; run contrary to public policy; and completely defy the responsibility of the prosecutorial function.”
“Though the prosecution hasgreat latitude in determining whetherto prosecute, those decisions aresubject to constitutional protections,and courts must dismiss criminal proceedings for various forms of misconduct or vindictiveness in the charging process,” the motion reads.
The December investigation resulted in the 15 misdemeanor charges at question in the current case against Lucas, alleging four counts of First Degree Official Misconduct, as the citations he issued could result in fines paid to the Town; four Counts of
Second Degree Official Misconduct for initiating prosecution for a crime that occurred out of town limits; and four counts of Official Oppression by issuing municipal summonses for offenses that were alleged to occur out of town. Three counts of False Reporting to Authorities are charged for false statements Lucas allegedly made to investigators.
Eidness argues such allegations have not been “charged against any similarly situated law enforcement officer” and that the “charges based upon the factual bases now at issue in this case are unprecedented in our criminal justice system.”
“When jurisdictional errors in pretrial proceedings or trials are identified, warrants are not issued for the arrests of the officers for such jurisdictional errors.”
After four months on paid administrative leave during which Lucas could not perform his duties as police chief, the Town Board voted not to reappoint him to that position.
DA’s response in opposition
On June 26, District Attorney Karzen filed a response, stating that the motion to dismiss should be denied because “the defendant has presented neither evidence nor relevant legal authority in support of his motion to dismiss.”
“[The] defendant has not been singled out here,” reads the response, “but he may be one of the few law enforcement officers ever to get caught conducting himself in this manner, which explains the lack of other ‘similar’ prosecutions.”
Karzen further argues against a special prosecution, citing precedent that “disqualifying a district attorney is a drastic remedy that should only occur in narrow circumstances.” He points to cases in which the Colorado Supreme Court reversed recusal orders, including one decision that reads, “[t]o allow disqualification in this case would essentially provide defendants the unfettered option of disqualifying a prosecutor whenever a district attorney had knowledge of any fact surrounding a case.”
The motion presents a three-fold argument stating that, under Colorado statute, there is no justification for recusing the current prosecutor. It says that there has been no charge of financial gain; that “in the absence of evidence proving a clear, unambiguous, personal interest,” a district attorney cannot be recused”; and that precedent creates a “high” burden for special circumstances that would make it “unlikely that a defendant would receive a fair trial in the absence of recusal.”
“Here, the irrefutable reality is that the defendant initiated this purported ‘conflict’ with the district attorney’s office, and the facts reveal he did so in reaction to the office doing nothing more than its job,” states Karzen. “While the defendant may not have liked what had to be done or said, that does not demonstrate a personal interest, or inability to perform the prosecution function ethically, on the part of any member of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Arguments will be weighed by County Court Judge Nick Catanzarite, and a decision will be issued. There is no specific deadline in which that decision should be entered into the case, and the judge could request additional information or an evidentiary hearing prior to a decision.