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Court unseals Martin case, appoints prosecutor

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By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

A local judge this week unsealed a court file containing charges of embezzlement against Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, and appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation of those charges.
Ninth Judicial District Judge James Boyd, in an order dated Jan. 22, has appointed Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown, whose district includes Eagle County, to look into whether Martin is guilty of improper use of public funds.
The Ninth District comprises Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties, with its central district offices in Glenwood Springs.
The matter involves charges leveled by defeated county commissioner candidate John Acha, a Democrat, who last year tried to unseat Martin, a Republican, from the commissioner’s post Martin has held for the past 20 years.
Part of Acha’s campaign was to closely research county records and policies to uncover anything that might be of value in the Democrats’ effort to oust Martin.
That search yielded, among other things, expense-account records that Acha and his campaign team took as evidence that Martin had been “double-dipping” in expense vouchers submitted for trips around the state and country on county business.
The case landed in the lap of then Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia, who claimed she had a conflict of interest because the Garfield County commissioners oversee her office’s operational budget, and asked Ninth District Chief Judge James Boyd to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the case.
Boyd quickly sealed the case in late October of last year, while awaiting motions filed by the two sides in the case.
In a court order dated Jan. 22, District Court Chief Judge James Boyd noted that the case file had been sealed at Martin’s request, after Martin maintained that “investigatory records are ‘routinely’ not disclosed in public until and unless charges are filed.”
The text of the order also noted that “defendant cites no legal authority in support of his request” and the judge ultimately concluded that “no grounds have been shown to keep the records of this case sealed.”
In the matter of appointment of a special prosecutor, Boyd wrote in the order that Martin argued that Caloia “lacks authority” for asking for a special prosecutor, because at that time there was no official case for an appointee to oversee, and that the matter under consideration is not “worthy of investigation.”
But the judge ruled that, if the DA is disqualified at her own request due to a conflict of interest, state law contains no “factors or elements for the court to consider” in terms of appointing a special prosecutor, beyond the DA’s request.
In addition, Boyd wrote, it is part of the DA’s job to investigate as well as prosecute, by hiring investigators and looking into the facts of the case.
“Absent investigation, a district attorney could not fulfill his or her ethical obligation” to put cases before the court that are based on carefully considered evidence, Boyd wrote.
As for whether the case is “worthy of investigation,” Boyd concluded that the DA’s office, under the constitution, is part of the executive branch of government, while the courts are in the judicial branch. Any intervention on Boyd’s part in the DA’s deliberations about the worthiness of the case would be a violation of the separation-of-powers enshrined in the national and the state constitutions, the judge wrote.
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