June 25, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Statutory Enforcement Mechanism Exists for Respondent Fee Awards

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McGihon v. Cave on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Defendant Thomas Cave filed a complaint with the Secretary of State, alleging that plaintiff Anne McGihon, a lobbyist, violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by allowing her name to be placed on an event invitation on behalf of a candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives. Following a hearing, an ALJ dismissed Cave’s claims and awarded McGihon attorney fees jointly against Cave and his attorney, Jessica Peck. The ALJ found that Cave’s claims were substantially groundless, frivolous, and vexatious.

McGihon filed an enforcement action in district court. Cave and Peck filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction over the enforcement action. The district court granted the motions and McGihon appealed.

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that although fee awards are contemplated by both C.R.S. § 1-45-111.5(2) and Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 9(2)(a), there is no enforcement mechanism available for prevailing respondents. Because McGihon did not raise equal protection and due process arguments in district court, the court of appeals declined to consider them.

The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Confrontation Rights Violated when Defendant Not Allowed to Ask Victim About Impairment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Dunham on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

The victim and his friend were involved in a confrontation in an apartment complex parking lot in the early morning hours of July 8, 2012. At some point, Defendant pointed a gun at the victim and his friend. The confrontation ended when Defendant pointed his gun into the air and fired. After leaving the parking lot, the victim was shot several times at a nearby intersection. The only witnesses besides Victim and Defendant were a husband and wife who saw a man running from the scene of the shooting but could not identify the shooter.

Defendant was charged with attempted first degree murder after deliberation, attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, and a crime of violence sentence enhancer. At trial, defense counsel sought to admit evidence that Victim had consumed methamphetamine the night of the shooting as res gestae evidence under CRE 404(b). The issue arose several times during trial and each time the trial court denied the defense’s request. Defendant was acquitted of the first degree murder charge but convicted on the other charges and sentence enhancer. He appealed, contending the trial court committed constitutional error by denying his requests to question the victim about his methamphetamine use.

The Colorado Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in finding the evidence was insufficient to allow the jury to consider the matter, and further found that CRE 104(a) governed the relevance of the evidence. The court of appeals found that the evidence was sufficient to allow a jury to consider the statements made by Victim to police and hospital staff regarding his methamphetamine use. The court further found that the error was constitutional because Defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were violated.

The court reversed and remanded for a new trial on the charges on which Defendant was convicted.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Amendment of Restitution Award Not “Ministerial” Because it Affects Sentence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McLain on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of theft and was sentenced to five years in community corrections. The prosecution requested restitution in the amount of $1,000 for the victim and $2,852.98 for the victim’s insurance company, to which the defendant did not object. The court granted the prosecution’s restitution request. Ten months later, the prosecution filed a Crim. P. 36 amended motion to impose restitution, maintaining she had made a clerical error and had neglected to request the $8,159.91 in losses sustained by the victim. The court granted the prosecution’s motion without waiting for a response from defendant. Five days later, Defendant filed an objection to the prosecutor’s request for additional restitution, arguing the request was untimely under the restitution statute and Crim. P. 36 did not apply. After a short hearing, the court determined it could correct the prosecution’s “ministerial error” and amended the restitution order.

On appeal, Defendant argued the court could not amend a final order of restitution to increase his obligation. The court of appeals agreed. The court noted that restitution is part of a sentence, and once a sentence is imposed and the defendant begins serving it, an increase in restitution violates the prohibition against double jeopardy. Although the prosecution argued that it had reserved the right to increase the restitution amount, the court of appeals disagreed, finding instead that the prosecution had proposed a concrete figure without any reservation and the figure was accepted by the district court. The court of appeals further found that Crim. P. 36 could not be applied in this case since the restitution increase amended the sentence itself.

The court vacated the judgment and remanded with directions to reinstate the original restitution award.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Has No Right to Access Witness’s Competency Evaluation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Zapata on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Defendant’s ex-girlfriend claimed the owner of the convenience store at which she worked had sexually harassed her, including grabbing her crotch, buttocks, and breasts. Defendant and his friend of six months, Murillo, went to the convenience store late one night, and Murillo quickly walked behind the counter and stabbed the owner’s son with a knife. A high-quality surveillance video showed the ensuing struggle, with Defendant watching from the other side of the counter. When the owner’s son began hitting Murillo on the head with a hammer, he pleaded with Defendant for help, and Defendant turned and ran.

Defendant was charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and first degree assault. Murillo, who suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the incident, was charged separately. He pleaded guilty in his case and testified at Defendant’s trial, remarking that he was testifying against Defendant because Defendant had left him at the store to die. The jury found Defendant guilty of attempted second degree murder and first degree assault.

He appealed, contending the district court erred by not requiring the prosecution to disclose statements Murillo made during competency evaluations in his separate trial and by admitting res gestae evidence of defendant’s controlling and threatening behavior with his ex-girlfriend. The court of appeals found no error. As to the competency evaluations, the district court ruled that Defendant was not entitled to them as a matter of law, and the court of appeals agreed. The court noted that Murillo had a valid privilege that he did not waive. The court further found that Defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights did not trump Murillo’s privilege.

The court of appeals also found that if there was error in admitting the res gestae evidence regarding Defendant’s controlling behavior, it was harmless. The court noted that even without the res gestae evidence, the prosecution’s evidence in the case was strong and the defense theory was weak, therefore even if the evidence was erroneously admitted, any error was harmless.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 5/19/2016

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued 12 published opinions and 28 unpublished opinions.

People v. Dunham

People v. McLain

People v. Zapata

People v. Riley

City & County of Denver v. Gutierrez

McGihon v. Cave

People v. Fransua

Mountain States Adjustment v. Cooke

In re Estate of Ramstetter

Reishus v. Bullmasters, LLC

Justiniano v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office

People in Interest of R.K.L.

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 5/12/2016

On Thursday, May 12, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 40 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Permanent Injunction Barring Trespass Not Preempted by NLRA

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers International Union on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Unions—Trespass—Permanent Injunction—National Labor Relations Act—Preemption—Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (collectively, unions) engaged in demonstrations at Walmart stores at several locations in Colorado. In response, Walmart mailed a letter to UFCW’s general counsel asking him to direct the unions to immediately cease protesting on Walmart’s property. When the activities continued, Walmart filed an unfair labor practice charge (labor charge) with the National Labor Relations Board (Board), claiming that the unions violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This charge was later dismissed by Walmart. However, Walmart then filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief from trespass in district court, requesting a permanent injunction enjoining the unions from engaging in certain types of activities on Walmart’s property. The unions filed a motion to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), claiming the NLRA preemption deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction. The court denied the motion and then granted Walmart’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the unions argued that the district court erred in denying their motion to dismiss because Walmart’s lawsuit is preempted by the NLRA. The federal issue in Walmart’s labor charge is unrelated to the trespass issue in Walmart’s state claim, and therefore the controversies are not identical. The NLRA does not arguably prohibit, and thus does not preempt, Walmart’s state claim to enjoin the unions from trespassing on its premises.

The unions also argued that, assuming the district court has subject matter jurisdiction over their activities, it applied the incorrect legal standard and erred by granting Walmart’s motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoining the unions from trespassing at Walmart-owned stores that are subject to Walmart’s nonexclusive easements over the property. The unions contended that because the properties contain nonexclusive easements, Walmart does not have exclusive possession of them and the district court should have required Walmart to show that the unions’ activity unreasonably interfered with Walmart’s use and enjoyment of the property. The unions do not dispute that Walmart possesses and has title to the property in question. Thus, to sustain its trespass claim, Walmart only had to prove that the unions entered its property without its permission. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion by issuing the injunction.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statutory Maintenance Guideline Formula Advisory, Not Mandatory

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Marriage of Vittetoe on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Dissolution of MarriageMarital PropertySeparate Property—Gift—MaintenanceGuideline.

In this dissolution of marriage proceeding, the primary issues at the permanent orders hearing concerned the division of the marital estate and wife’s maintenance request.

On appeal, wife contended that the district court misclassified a home as marital property and thus erred in including it as part of the marital estate. Specifically, wife argued that the home was her separate property by virtue of a resulting trust, or, alternatively, that the home was a separate gift and the court should have divided only the marital increase in value. Wife’s mother (mother) lived in the home throughout the parties’ marriage, and her 1977 will stipulated that her real property be held in trust and “used in the manner that is most beneficial to my children.” In 2005, mother recorded a quitclaim deed that listed herself and wife as joint tenants. When mother died, the home passed to wife. Wife argued to the district court that in executing the quitclaim deed, mother intended for wife to hold the home in trust for the siblings but did not intend for wife to obtain any beneficial interest in the home. There was sufficient evidence in the record to support the district court’s conclusion that no resulting trust formed and that mother intended for wife to take a beneficial interest in the home. However, the district court’s findings on whether the home was a gift are insufficient. The case was remanded for reconsideration, directing the district court to make specific findings, by clear and convincing evidence, on whether the home was a gift to the marriage or wife’s separate property, and further findings consistent therewith, if necessary.

Husband’s sole contention on cross-appeal was that the district court erred when it awarded wife maintenance in an amount that exceeded the statutory “cap” under C.R.S. § 14-10-114(3)(b)(I). Husband asserted that the plain language of the statute prohibited the court from entering a maintenance award that exceeded 40% of the parties’ combined monthly adjusted gross income. By describing the guideline formula as advisory and not presumptive, and by requiring the district court to consider other financial factors before awarding maintenance, the General Assembly indicated that it did not intend to “cap” the amount of maintenance available to a spouse. Therefore, under the new maintenance statute, the district court must consider the guideline formula and make findings concerning the relevant factors cited in the statute. After it has done so, the court, in its discretion, may award maintenance that exceeds the guideline formula amount if appropriate under the circumstances.

The judgement was affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Potential Conflict of Interest Relevant in Determination of Prejudice to Defendant

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Villanueva on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Benjamin Garcia-Diaz’s wife called the police for a domestic violence incident, and authorized a search of the residence. Police found $30,000 worth of cocaine during the search. Garcia-Diaz retained Charles Elliot to defend the domestic violence charges, and although the prosecution moved to add drug charges, the motion was still pending when Garcia-Diaz disappeared in March 2005. His body was found in September 2005, and Martin Villanueva was arrested for the murder.

Villanueva retained Elliot, who had represented him in the past. Elliot advised Villanueva that the prosecution might seek to disqualify him because of his prior representation with Garcia-Diaz, and later Elliot entered into an agreement with the prosecution where neither party would mention his prior representation of Garcia-Diaz. The trial court was never told about the conflict of interest.

At trial in 2006, the prosecution’s theory of the case was that Garcia-Diaz was about to enter into an agreement with the prosecution and would have laid the blame on Villanueva, his supplier, so Villanueva shot him at a crucial time. In fact, as Elliot knew, Garcia-Diaz had not negotiated at all with the prosecution and was not preparing to blame Villanueva, but because of his agreement Elliot could not rebut the prosecution’s theory.

Villanueva was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. He then filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion alleging that Elliot’s performance was deficient because he had a conflict of interest that adversely affected his trial performance. The district court denied the postconviction motion.

On appeal, the court of appeals evaluated Villanueva’s claims under the framework set forth in West v. People, 2015 CO 5, which clarified the correct standard for evaluating conflict of interest claims. Under West, to show an adverse effect from a conflict of interest, the defendant must identify a plausible defense or strategy, show that the alternative strategy was objectively reasonable, and establish that counsel’s failure to pursue the alternative strategy was linked to the conflict. Villanueva contended that Elliot was ineffective for failing to rebut the prosecution’s theory of the case. The trial court determined that because Villanueva showed only a potential conflict, not an actual conflict, his argument failed. However, under West, Villanueva needed only to show a potential conflict.

The court of appeals remanded for the district court to consider whether Elliot’s duties to Garcia-Diaz were inherently in conflict with Villanueva’s suggested alternative strategy of rebutting the prosecution’s evidence regarding whether Garcia-Diaz was about to snitch on Villanueva.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Must Personally Waive Presence During Crucial Times of Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Janis on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Erin Janis stabbed Farest Logan outside a bar on Colfax. Janis, who was quickly apprehended by police, admitted to stabbing Logan, but asserted she did it in self-defense because he had helped someone else rape her and had assaulted her previously that day. Logan said he was just standing outside the bar when Janis stabbed him. Janis was charged with first degree assault.

At trial, defense counsel approached the bench during Logan’s testimony and informed the court that Janis was suffering ill effects from her psychiatric diagnoses and needed to leave the courtroom. The court granted defense counsel’s request without questioning Janis. She was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison, and appealed her sentence and conviction.

The court of appeals addressed whether a defendant in custody can waive appearance through counsel, and determined that it could not. Janis was in custody during the trial and was available for the court to question her regarding whether waiving her right to confront Logan was voluntary. Because the right to confront adverse witnesses is grounded in the Sixth Amendment and is fundamental, Janis was deprived of her right to a fair trial by not personally waiving her appearance.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Res Gestae Evidence Appropriate when it Shows Defendant’s Prior Conduct with Victim

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Galang on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Victim moved to California from the Philippines in 2004, and met Defendant at work that same year. Defendant and Victim maintained a “very close” relationship, and when Victim moved to Colorado and married, she continued to see Defendant when she visited California.

In 2011, Victim began receiving emails from a Yahoo email account under the name “Holycrap Imbatman” (Batman). Batman requested that Victim send photos and videos of herself doing sexual acts, and threatened to tell immigration officials she had “married for papers” or tell her then-boyfriend she was having sex with other men if she did not send the photos and videos.

Victim reported the emails to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and that office continued corresponding with Batman as if it were the victim. The sheriff’s office set up a rendezvous with Batman in California, and defendant showed up. Defendant was arrested and charged with computer crime, extortion, criminal impersonation, stalking, and harassment.

The trial court dismissed the computer crime charge and Defendant was convicted on the other four charges. He appealed, and the People cross-appealed the trial court’s dismissal of the computer crime charge.

The court of appeals disagreed with defendant’s contention that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of his prior requests for naked pictures of Victim. On plain error review, the court of appeals found the evidence was admissible res gestae evidence. The evidence tended to show why defendant would have wanted naked pictures of the victim, because he had asked for such pictures before.

As to the People’s cross-appeal, the court of appeals agreed that the trial court should not have dismissed the computer crime charge, and disapproved of the dismissal. The trial court asserted that the charge was unnecessary because there was not an assigned penalty, but the court of appeals disapproved of this reasoning. The court of appeals noted that the elements of computer crime were met, and although Victim suffered no damages, the court of appeals read the statute as not requiring a showing of damages. The court of appeals disapproved of the trial court’s judgment of acquittal on the computer crime charge.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed and the computer crime acquittal was disapproved.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 5/5/2016

On Thursday, May 5, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued five published opinions and 27 unpublished opinions.

People v. Galang

People v. Janis

People v. Villanueva

In re Marriage of Vittetoe

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers International Union

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.