As a Gail force joins bench, lawyers tackle case chaos
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” A short-staffed district attorney’s office made for some courtroom confusion in Aspen on Monday.
The upper valley has been without a designated prosecutor for weeks since the announcement of former Deputy District Attorney Gail Nichols’ appointment to a district court judgeship.
And on the same day that Nichols donned the judge’s robes in a ceremony on the courthouse steps in Aspen, Deputy District Attorney Tony Hershey, who was brought in from the 9th Judicial Office in Glenwood Springs to fill in, repeatedly apologized to the court for procedural errors in several cases.
An Indiana man who’d been extradited from Florida on allegations of burglary in Aspen had been held in the Pitkin County jail for weeks without being advised of charges, Hershey said.
Matthew Thomas Hughes, 21, has been in jail since June 18. He had been extradited from Florida following allegations that in March he broke into a Cooper Avenue residence and stole $500 in cash as well as prescription medications.
Hughes is being represented by the public defender’s office, but his attorney, Tina Fang, said Monday that she had no knowledge of the case at all. She asked the judge for a continuance until September to get up to speed.
“For some reason he was not brought before the court within the parameters of the law,” Fang said.
Meanwhile, Judge James Boyd formally advised Hughes of a felony burglary charge and theft of more than $1,000. He also issued Hughes a $15,000 personal-recognizance bond.
Hershey said that charges were filed in the case. But while Hughes had been advised of the charges in Florida, he had not been advised in Colorado; Hershey apologized to the court for the error.
Boyd allowed Hughes to return to his family’s home in Indiana until his next court appearance in September.
State law dictates that defendants must be advised of charges within 48 hours of their incarceration, and charges are usually filed during the next docket day, Hershey said. But while the loss of Nichols covering cases in Aspen prompted some of the confusion, the error was ultimately his, Hershey said.
“I can’t blame the court. I can’t blame the jail,” he said later. But “we’re on top of it.”
Two other men also held in the Pitkin County jail had seen a judge and been advised of charges, but Boyd reduced their bond amounts because prosecutors failed to file charges in a timely manner.
Nathaniel Taylor, 27, of Redstone, was arrested June 17 and charged with prohibited use of a weapon, menacing, reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, careless driving and failure to notify police of an accident.
But because official charges were not yet filed on Monday, Boyd granted Taylor a continuance and released him on a personal recognizance bond until a hearing Aug. 4.
Hershey said it was planned that the judge would issued Taylor such a bond so that Taylor could go to substance-abuse treatment. But Hershey said the charges should have been filed in the case.
The same was true for Jesse James Coleman, whose bond was reduced to a $2,500 cash surety bond on his charges of driving without a valid license, failure to appear and second-degree assault.
Coleman said he had been in jail for more than three weeks without a formal filing.
“Someone should have reviewed that,” Hershey said.
Coleman will be back in court on July 21.
Prosecutors routinely ask for more time to file charges, Hershey said, but added that defendants cannot be held indefinitely awaiting a formal filing.
Hershey said there will be a new deputy district attorney in Aspen some time in August.
The district attorney’s office isn’t the only one short-handed. Public defender Garth McCarty is stepping down with many cases midstream, and Sam Barns in the probation department also gave notice.
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