Caseload critical for Aspen prosecutor |

Caseload critical for Aspen prosecutor

Wyatt Haupt Jr.
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” At some point, the highly charged environment Arnold Mordkin inherited as lead prosecutor in Aspen is bound to become less electric.

But when that happens is anybody’s guess. Because from the moment he stepped into his role as chief deputy district attorney in November, it has been a fast-paced ride dominated by an intense caseload and a wealth of new responsibilities.

“It’s not what I expected,” said Mordkin one morning as he sat behind a desk piled with enough case files, notes and other paper to seemingly account for a small forest of trees.

He said the first thing that struck him was the “administrative” work involved in the job. That ranges from coordinating with local law-enforcement agences on how to proceed with certain issues, to the shuffling of paperwork between the court clerk, judge and prosecutorial offices.

“That was something I did not comprehend. The magnitude of my job,” he said. “Then I am faced with an inordinate amount of extremely difficult cases. Those two things make it more than I expected.”

Demanding, yes. But it is not impossible. And certainly worth the time and effort it takes to get the job done, the prosecutor said.

“You want to do a good job for somebody,” said the 71-year-old Mordkin, who has been an attorney for more than 45 years, with nearly all of that time spent on the defense side.

That experience factor seems to have served him well early on, given the scope of some cases in the pipeline. The grittiest appear to be the sexual-assault incidents, of which the district attorney’s office in Aspen is working several at the moment.

The most recent case stems from an alleged kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman outside the Centennial apartment complex in Aspen on Jan. 17. The suspect, Emanuel Gonzalez-Loujun, 21, stands accused of multiple felonies in the case.

He is alleged to have sexually assaulted the woman multiple times in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, according to court documents.

Charges were filed a week ago. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of all counts. Gonzalez-Loujun is to next appear in court on March 16. He is being held on $250,000 bail at Pitkin County jail.

A second sexual-assault case came to light in early December, when authorities arrested Abraham Cortez-Jimenez, 26, of Aspen. The incident allegedly took place Dec. 10 at an apartment along Highway 82, after a party at the residence.

Cortez-Jimenez faces at least one felony count of sexual assault, and he could be held accountable for related offenses, authorities said. He is being held in the Pitkin County jail on $15,000 bail.

Yet another, perhaps the most highly publicized sexual-assault case, is alleged to have occurred at the now-defunct Cooper Street Pier bar.

Sohan Shrestha, 37, the former manager of the bar, faces one count of sexual assault in the Aug. 20 incident. He is also accused of third-degree assault. Shrestha is due back in court March 20 for a preliminary hearing. He is being held in lieu of $25,000 bail at Pitkin County jail.

Chip McCrory, who led the district attorney’s office in Aspen for 12 years before he moved to private practice, said that he could never find a pattern to the caseload in the area.

Not much has changed.

“It has either been feast or famine,” he said. “Suddenly you could get a deluge of cases dumped on your desk.”

Mordkin also inherited a pair of other high-profile cases ” one that is nearing an end and another that might be nowhere close to being over.

Peter Frommer of Aspen pleaded guilty last week to two felonies and a misdemeanor in connection with writing bad checks to local businesses and others in the winter of 2006-07.

The pleas were entered as part of a deal brokered with the district attorney’s office in Aspen. The agreement called for Frommer to plead guilty to a third- and fourth-degree felony and a single misdemeanor offense.

The felony counts will be deferred, meaning the conviction will not go on Frommer’s record provided he completes the terms of his probation. The misdemeanor will stand permanently.

Frommer must also pay full restitution. The total has been estimated at $160,000, and includes about $90,000 that Frommer has repaid since his arrest in February 2007. He was subsequently charged with more than 30 felony counts of fraud.

The deferred period will be three years provided the judge approves the agreement. Frommer is set to appear for sentencing April 20.

Nearly as complex as the check-fraud affair is the drug case against Devin Schutter of Aspen, who was arrested Feb. 20, 2008, at his mom’s house.

Schutter, 30, stands accused of numerous felonies ranging from drug possession with intent to distribute, to probation and parole violations from earlier cases.

He is also accused of distribution of a Schedule I controlled substance in Fremont County. That is connected to an alleged prison drug-distribution ring he ran with his brother, Stefan, an inmate at Four Mile Correctional Facility in Canon City.

All told, he could spend decades in prison if convicted as charged.

A plea agreement, of “global” nature, is believed to be in the offing. The deal would factor in the alleged misdeed in Fremont County, hence the “global” designation.

Stephen McCrohan, a public defender and attorney for Schutter, said that discussions about a potential plea deal have yet to occur.

Schutter, 30, is set to appear March 2 in Pitkin County District Court for what could be a disposition hearing. He is being held in Pitkin County jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.

The path to the district attorney’s office in Aspen was a long and somewhat unusual one for Mordkin, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y.

When Mordkin was a teenager his family relocated to Hollywood, Calif., where he went to high school.

He later graduated from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he also earned his law degree in 1962. He was admitted to the California bar in 1963.

While in private practice most of his career, Mordkin served as a municipal court judge from 1978-79 in Orange County, Calif.

He was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association in 1996.

Mordkin, who has been married to his wife, Cindy, for more than 20 years, also sits on the Town of Snowmass Village Council. He lost a bid to become mayor in the Nov. 4 general election, but has not ruled out running for council in 2010 when his term expires.

“I don’t think one job is more important than the other,” said Mordkin on one way that he balances the dual roles. “I don’t think one is more stressful than another … the stress comes in dealing with certain people.”

The key is to channel the pressure.

“Stress can be put to good use,” he said. “It can be an energizing tool.”

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