Man hires new attorney in coke case

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A 25-year-old man accused of selling cocaine and introducing contraband into the Routt County Jail accused a public defender of turning down a plea agreement without his consent.

Michael Sherrod Saunders of Steamboat Springs told County Judge James Garrecht in Routt County Court on Tuesday that he was never made aware of a July 28 plea that Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James offered.

Saunders said that, under the agreement, he would have pleaded guilty to possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine, a Class 6 felony, in exchange for a sentence of two years in prison. Instead, he now faces more severe felony charges.

Saunders was arrested on suspicion of selling drugs July 8 after undercover officers bought cocaine from Saunders on July 6 at his home.

Saunders said his original attorney, public defender Trevor McFee, never made mention of the agreement and declined it one day after it was made without his permission. "I was denied something I was never made aware of," he said. "I don't know if what (McFee) did was legal or not, but it certainly isn't right.

"It's a good plea. I could have worked with that," Saunders added. "Since the denial of the plea, my case has gotten significantly worse."

Saunders said he has since acquired new representation, Steamboat Springs attorney Larry Combs, in hopes of getting the plea reinstated.

McFee would not comment about the case other than to say he no longer represents Saunders.

Garrecht said he could not make any comment about what happens between a client and an attorney. Saunders tried to question St. James about the case, but St. James said it was inappropriate for the two to talk.

Saunders was in court for a preliminary hearing on the drug charges; however, his new attorney was in Denver and could not make the hearing.

St. James said that during a meeting, Combs had told St. James he would be willing to waive Saunders' right to a preliminary hearing and have the case bound over to District Court.

Because Combs was not in court to confirm St. James' comments, Garrecht did not feel comfortable binding the case.

"This is not a generic or simple case," Garrecht said. "I am hesitant to waive the preliminary hearing because I think there is a lot of discovery."

After waiting almost 30 minutes to see whether Combs might show up, Garrecht decided to continue the case until 1 p.m. Oct. 12 to allow Combs more time to figure out how to proceed.

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