Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall's trial will be held in Routt County, Senior Judge Cecil Wayne Williams ruled Wednesday morning.
Wall is charged with driving under the influence of alcohol on the night of Oct. 27, 2007. Special prosecutor Karen Romeo requested a venue change because of media coverage that she claims has been "massive, pervasive and prejudicial to both sides." Wall's defense opposed the motion, and Wall's attorney, Ron Smith, even questioned Romeo's right to make such a request.
"The motion for change of venue I think comes out of the defendant's right to a fair trial," Smith said in court Wednesday.
Smith added he could not find one instance in Colorado case law of the prosecution making a motion to change venue. Williams pressed Smith and asked if he had found anything that specifically stated the prosecution could not make such a motion. Smith said he had not.
While he did not question Romeo's right to request a venue change, Williams did say it was the first time he had ever seen such a motion from the prosecution.
"That's an innovative motion, Ms. Romeo," Williams said.
Williams ultimately decided that any publicity concerns were outweighed by the fact that Wall had not waived his right to stand trial in Routt County.
"I do not find them to be massive," Williams said of Steamboat Pilot & Today newspaper articles Romeo submitted as a supplement to her motion. "I do not find them to be pervasive. And I do not find them to be prejudicial."
Out of 14 articles, Williams said only three came close to being prejudicial: a letter to the editor submitted by Bill and Cathie Voorhees and printed Dec. 23 that called for a recall of Wall; an editorial printed Oct. 31 that admonished Wall for refusing to discuss the charges against him; and a Dec. 21 article detailing a hearing at which the Colorado Department of Revenue upheld the Colorado State Patrol's one-year revocation of Wall's driver's license for his refusal to submit to any tests of his blood alcohol content.
Romeo also submitted dozens of pages of reader-submitted comments from the newspaper's Web site, www.steamboatpilot.com, as evidence for the need to move the trial. Those did not sway Williams either; he noted that only a very small number of people who posted identified themselves.
"I don't put much credence in these anonymous bloggings," Williams said. "It seems to me we've got to hear from the potential jurors in this community, and not from anonymous blogs, but under oath in this courtroom."
Romeo said she fears the court will waste time trying to hold the trial in Routt County, only to move it later after discovering potential jurors know about the case and already have formed an opinion about it.
"People are more apt to have a preconceived notion because they know the man," Romeo said. "Bottom line."
The Oct. 27 traffic stop resulted in Wall being charged with failure to dim his headlights, driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of a weapon while under the influence of alcohol.
Romeo also referenced stories about Wall printed before that night.
"I think the sheriff has been labeled controversial," Romeo said.