Thompson fights to keep lawyers
February 12, 2004
An Eagle County district judge determined yesterday that the public defender’s office has a right to check the financial resources of the sister of a man seeking legal representation against charges in a beating death.
Judge Richard Hart told Russell Thompson, who is facing a manslaughter charge, that the public defender’s office has a right to seek his sister’s financial records before determining if it can represent him.
A person has to qualify as indigent to be represented by the public defender’s office, which is supported by Colorado taxpayers. Thompson argued yesterday that his financial status is what matters, not his sister’s.
“She’s not the one applying for assistance. I am,” Thompson said.
But Deputy Public Defender Ken Barker said both Thompson and his sister, Dianna “Deedee” Young, have represented that he lives with her in Colorado Springs and is dependent on her for food and shelter. In that case, her financial standing must be considered before the public defender’s office can determine if it can accept the case.
Barker said the public defenders’ office is audited annually by the state government. If it finds an office is representing a client who doesn’t qualify, it risks losing funding.
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“The court knows this state is broke at this point,” said Barker.
Hart said Thompson’s family should comply with the request to “satisfy bureaucratic red tape at this time of a budget crisis.” The judge said he would seal Young’s financial information from public view if that was an issue for her. Thompson said he would ask his sister to supply the information.
The public defender office’s decision to seek more financial information at this time appears odd. The request was made more than six months after it initially accepted Thompson’s case. It also comes as a rift is developing between Thompson and his lawyers over his defense.
Thompson was initially represented by the public defender’s office after he was charged with second-degree murder for the beating death of Timothy “Chico” Destromp in El Jebel in February 2001. He fired Elizabeth Espinosa of the public defender’s office because of what he called incompetent representation.
He represented himself at trial, and a jury convicted him of the reduced charge of manslaughter. That conviction was thrown out due to illegal tactics used by the district attorney’s office. The judge ruled Thompson couldn’t properly prepare his defense.
For the retrial on the manslaughter charge, Thompson rehired the public defender’s office because Espinosa had departed.
Hart said he will hold a hearing later this month, after Young submits financial information, to determine if Thompson is eligible for representation by the public defender.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]