Who’s on probation here?
EAGLE COUNTY- To Daniel Ramirez, who’s on probation for driving under the influence, it wouldn’t be fair if his probation officer was going through the criminal legal system at the same time he is.”They are human beings and they can make a mistake,” said Ramirez, 25, of Avon. “But they have to take responsibility for what they’ve done, just as they make me take responsibility.”Apparently, that hasn’t been the case in the 5th Judicial District probation department – counties of Eagle, Lake, Summit and Clear Creek.La Tribuna, a sister publication of The Aspen Times, started an investigation after it received an anonymous letter in February from somebody who said they worked there. According to the letter, authorities from the probation department allowed two probation officers to keep working while one had an outstanding arrest warrant in another county and the other faced court sanctions for possession of marijuana.According to court documents, the probation department hired John Watt as a probation officer in September 2001, though the Jefferson County courts had issued an arrest warrant for Watt for failure to comply. According to court documents, Watt kept working for a year and a half while the arrest warrant was still out.Another probation officer, Mark Cordova, was charged with possession of less than one ounce of marijuana just a month after starting to work for the 5th Judicial District in 2001.According to the Office of the State Court Administrator, Cordova kept working for the probation department while he was under a deferred sentence after he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in August 2001. The case was dismissed in April 2002 once the deferred sentence was completed.Colleagues’ concernsDistrict Attorney Mark Hurlbert said it’s concerning if a person is still acting as a probation officer while they have a case pending or a warrant outstanding. “You would hope they would be placed on leave until the case is over,” Hurlbert said. “I don’t know what the policy is in the probation office, but in the district attorney’s office, if a deputy district attorney is charged with a crime, other than a traffic infraction, they are immediately let go.”Chief Laurel Lamont of the 5th Judicial District probation department declined to comment, citing personnel issues. But in a letter from the Office of the State Court Administrator of Colorado, Rob McCallum, spokesman for the office, confirmed Watt had been employed as a probation officer from Sept. 3, 2001 to Jan. 8, 2004.”According to our records, Mr. Watt resigned,” McCallum wrote in his letter to La Tribuna.Mark Cordova was hired on July 1, 2001 and is still working as a probation officer, the letter said.McCallum declined to answer more questions saying the additional information requested by La Tribuna didn’t fall under the purview of the Colorado Open Records Act.Higher standardsIn 2006, the Eagle County Courts ordered Patricia (she asked her name be changed to protect her privacy) to see her probation officer in Eagle once a month at a $50-per-month cost.”The law already isn’t the same for everyone,” said Patricia, 29, of Avon, who was charged with domestic violence. “I believe they should be suspended until their cases are cleared,” she added, referring to cases such as Watt’s and Cordova’s.In the description of the job provided by the Colorado Judicial Branch, a person who has a criminal history isn’t precluded from applying for a job as a probation officer. The Colorado Judicial Branch asks for a four-year college or university degree. Upon hire and as a condition of continued employment, employees must receive acceptable reviews to keep their jobs.Though he and his deputy district attorneys rely on the probation officers’ investigations, the recommendations they give the courts are their own, Hurlbert said.To Hurlbert, if a deputy district attorney in his office is accused of a crime – other than a traffic infraction – he is immediately fired.”I feel that as prosecutors who work for the people that we are held to a higher standard,” he said.According to Stacey Horn, a probation officer in Eagle County, a probation officer can have a great impact in the lives of those they supervise.”A probation officer could recommend the highest sanctions in a case,” she said.A probation officer supervises individuals on probation, provides referrals to community resources, formulates case plans with the offender with the goal of establishing pro-social behavior and repairing the harm caused to the community and victims, and, when appropriate, recommends extension or termination of probation.”In general, judges follow our recommendations,” Horn said. “If a court official is under court sanctions, he shouldn’t work for the courts until his case is resolved,” she added. “The same for some attorneys. You can’t be objective if you are under the same restrictions. People make mistakes and can fix them.”
According to court documents, on April 20, 1999, John Watt, 57, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, a misdemeanor. When he was stopped June 11, 1997, by a state patrol trooper in Jefferson County, Watt’s blood alcohol content was .292 – almost triple of the then-legal amount of .1.The case got complicated when Watt didn’t show up in court June 18, 1997. The court then issued an arrest warrant that was canceled Jan. 27, 1999. On April 20, 1999, the court sentenced Watt to 365 days in jail – suspended imposition – and to a year of probation and alcohol supervision.However, the courts issued another arrest warrant for Watt on March 3, 2000, for not complying with the courts. That warrant was canceled March 17, 2003, more than a year after Watt had started working as a probation officer for the 5th Judicial District.• A state trooper stopped Mark Cordova in Pueblo County on Aug. 13, 2001. Cordova was charged with possession of marijuana (less than one ounce), possession of drug paraphernalia and traffic infractions, which were later dismissed by the district attorney.On Oct. 10, 2001, Cordova, who already was a probation officer for the 5th Judicial District, pleaded guilty to possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, a misdemeanor; he received a deferred sentenced and six months unsupervised probation. In April 2002, his case was dismissed.
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