Drug bust cases weigh down public defenders
Eight of the men rounded up in the Dec. 2 raid on two venerable Aspen restaurants were in district court Monday, and their cases apparently have overwhelmed the local public defender’s office.The reason, said chief public defender Greg Greer, is that some of the cases are linked together by conspiracy charges. That sets up a legal conflict because one attorney cannot represent two defendants in the same case, and there are not enough public defenders to cover the field.Charged with various drug-related offenses, the men mostly are in custody in jails in Pitkin and Garfield counties. Pitkin County inmates showed up in court sporting the familiar orange jumpsuits issued to prisoners there; Garfield County inmates wore shirts and pants bearing horizontal gray and white stripes.The defendants were the majority of a group of 10 men, all with Hispanic names, whom law enforcement authorities arrested in a late afternoon raid at Cooper Street Pier and Little Annie’s Eating House.The busts have spawned a huge debate in Aspen over the methods and the timing of the raids, which involved armed officers storming two restaurants where members of the public, including children, were sitting and eating.But in court Monday the problem was one of legal logistics, as Greer and other defense attorneys huddled before court to discuss how to provide legal representation to the men.”We can take care of at least a couple of them in court today,” Greer told Judge James Boyd. Greer said a couple of defense attorneys in court on Monday – Arnie Mordkin and Lauren Wolpin – were on the list of qualified “alternate defense counsel” and had agreed to take on some of the cases.The “ADC” list, as it is known, is maintained for just such purposes, said longtime public defender Jim Conway. He said the list is the province of legal administrator Roberta Nieslanik, who handles the entire Western Slope.”If they run out of attorneys, they call Bert,” Conway explained, noting that every town has a list of ADC attorneys at the ready. Aspen, for example, has three; Glenwood Springs has about the same number. If large-scale cases involving multiple defendants exhaust that capacity, authorities sometimes have to start looking outside the 9th Judicial District.”I would say I haven’t seen it more than once a year,” Conway said. “Whenever there’s a case where you have to appoint more [ADC attorneys than are available in a particular town], that is unusual.”Greer and Conway both said this series of cases might require bringing in attorneys from other counties, such as Mesa and Eagle.Conway said such situations can put a strain on the judicial budget, since ADC attorneys are paid mileage per-diem fees as well as $50 per hour in legal fees.He said that each individual case could end up costing the district up to $1,500 in mileage and hourly attorney’s fees alone, rather than simply being covered by the salaries of the local public defenders.The eight men who appeared in court Monday were generally facing three charges – possession, dealing and conspiracy to deal; the cases were, for the most part, continued until Jan. 9. Judge Boyd promised to have attorneys appointed in all the cases by that time.Aside from Mordkin and Wolpin, one of those appointed to represent at least two of the defendants was former Deputy DA Chip McCrory, now in private practice as a criminal defense attorney. Greer also will represent several of the defendants busted in the sweep.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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