Grand jury seated for Routt, Moffat and Grand counties

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Brett Barkey

— District Attorney Brett Barkey has enlisted the help of 16 residents to sit on a grand jury that will help investigate potentially difficult cases that come up during the next year.

The grand jury is composed of 12 jurors and four alternates who will serve a one-year term. Members of the jury were selected Tuesday at the Routt County Courthouse. Barkey would not say how many people were summoned to be potential members of the jury. However, all potential jurors were residents of the 14th Judicial District, which encompasses Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.

The grand jury will be able to investigate cases in each of the three counties. Jury selection was overseen by Chief Judge Michael O’Hara.

Barkey said longtime employees who have worked in the District Attorney’s Office for 30 or more years cannot remember a grand jury ever being used in the 14th Judicial District.

“I just think it’s a terrific tool that I wanted us to try to use,” Barkey said Wednesday. “I think I owe it to the community to try out this tool.”

Barkey said he doesn’t have experience working with grand juries, but members of his office consulted with the 4th Judicial District in Colorado Springs, where a grand jury is used.

Grand juries can help prosecutors investigate cases because they have the ability to subpoena documents as well as witnesses to testify in advance of a trial. Grand juries meet in secret and have the ability to indict people. They also can signal to prosecutors the strength of a particular case.

Traditionally, the Routt County District Attorney’s Office has done its own investigations and filed its own charges.

On the federal level, for example, a grand jury was used to investigate doping allegations against former seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. At the state level, prosecutors in Pennsylvania used a grand jury throughout the course of two years to call witnesses and investigate child molestation allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. In Boulder, a grand jury investigated the murder of JonBenét Ramsey in 1999, a case that was never solved.

Barkey said there was no specific case that prompted him to form a grand jury, and he wanted to be prepared should something come up.

“You don’t want to (wait to) have a fire to build the ability to respond to it,” Barkey said.

As an example, Barkey said he could foresee a grand jury being useful if there was a perceived conflict with the District Attorney’s Office investigating an incident such as a police officer using deadly force. While the grand jury meets in secret, Barkey said it would help create transparency during the investigation because members of the community were being used to investigate the incident.

“A grand jury can be a unique tool and a valuable resource in a challenging case,” Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae wrote in an email Wednesday. “I applaud our District Attorney’s Office’s work on filling a gap that may exist from time to time. The seating of a grand jury within our judicial district fills that gap, and it is nice to know we now have the resource in place should we ever need it.”

Barkey said his office will absorb the cost of the grand jury while it is tested this year. He said the cost mainly entails paying for a court reporter to record proceedings.

As with trial jurors, grand jurors are paid up to $50 per day for the first three days by their regular employer. Beginning with the fourth day of service, grand jurors can receive $50 per day from the state.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Tracy Barnett 1 year, 1 month ago

Just to set the record straight, there WAS a grand jury before in the 14th judicial district. I sat on that grand jury for an entire year in 1978. Although none of the cases that were brought to us were ever tried, it was an interesting year, for sure. Tim Oliphant was brought to town to be the "prosecutor" or, at least the one who presented the cases to us for the county. We heard big cases like police brutality for nude bathing at the hot springs and others. (Note tongue in cheek here). We met once a week for an entire year.

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rhys jones 1 year, 1 month ago

Yeah, nowadays you've got to be careful where you go get all nudied up. Big Brother is watching. He wants to hurt you.

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Eric J. Bowman 1 year, 1 month ago

"Barkey said longtime employees who have worked in the District Attorney’s Office for 30 or more years cannot remember a grand jury ever being used in the 14th Judicial District."

And I can't remember any case for the past 20 which called for one, nor can I remember any citizen request that we have any grand jury, let alone a standing grand jury, in Northwest Colorado. That isn't how we do things 'round heah.

"'I just think it’s a terrific tool that I wanted us to try to use,' Barkey said Wednesday. 'I think I owe it to the community to try out this tool.'"

A standing grand jury is a terrific tool, for weak DAs and those who must rely on weak police departments, who are otherwise unable to secure indictments using evidence and arguments which pass muster with a judge. When was the last time a grand jury didn't indict someone?

It's a much lower bar than is the custom and practice in Northwest Colorado, and I think you owe it to the community not to introduce a tool which is so easily abused, and twisted to political purpose, as the new standard operating procedure (I linked in another thread to a front-range case where a grand jury added a ludicrous racketeering indictment for a DA running for higher office to use as election publicity).

"Barkey said he doesn’t have experience working with grand juries, but members of his office consulted with the 4th Judicial District in Colorado Springs, where a grand jury is used."

Trust me, you'll love 'em!

http://grandjuryresistance.org/

Your libertarian constituents (a good chunk in this judicial district) may feel otherwise, however.

I don't mind that you're an authoritarian, it didn't keep me from voting for you or thinking you're doing a better job than the last gal, and IMO is a good trait in a DA anyway. But standing grand juries are a tool of repression which we are now the only country still using.

"Grand juries can help prosecutors investigate cases because they have the ability to subpoena documents as well as witnesses to testify in advance of a trial. Grand juries meet in secret and have the ability to indict people. They also can signal to prosecutors the strength of a particular case."

And yet, for 30+ years we've been doing just fine without any such secrecy -- it isn't like these problems are insurmountable without grand juries, they just require a little more due process, which the voters may not necessarily find a bad thing.

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Eric J. Bowman 1 year, 1 month ago

"Traditionally, the Routt County District Attorney’s Office has done its own investigations and filed its own charges."

If it ain't broke, please don't fix it. This isn't the big city, where standing grand juries make more sense, but are usually symptomatic of wider ills.

"Barkey said there was no specific case that prompted him to form a grand jury, and he wanted to be prepared should something come up."

The flip side of that coin, is that if nothing does come up, you (or your successor, if you establish this precedent) will be sore tempted to give them some "make work", to justify their existence. One railroad in NW CO is enough, thank you.

"You don’t want to (wait to) have a fire to build the ability to respond to it," Barkey said.

Sorry Mr. Barkey, but that's exactly what the vast, prosecutor-friendly powers of a grand jury should be reserved for. In fact, there's one grand jury afoot right now which I fully support as sore needed -- Steubenville. What the kids called the "rape crew" may be responsible for two more girls now revealed to have been in the same condition on the same carpet, plus another 13-year-old girl almost a year ago at an after-prom party.

These roaming parties may have bounced through assistant coaches' residences, with one witnessing the girl and merely telling them to go away -- not calling the authorities, let alone the coach. But nobody's talking, and many are actively obstructing. So it appears the recent convictions are only just the start. In this extreme situation, my sympathies lie entirely with law enforcement (except maybe that Sheriff), and I wouldn't know where they should begin if it weren't for grand juries. They don't have experience with that system there, either, but something tells me that won't impede indicting anyone the prosecutor feels should be indicted.

Someone in another thread brought up the Blee case, but the time for that is long past. Let's all pray that moving forward, we don't ever have a genuine need to seat a grand jury over a specific tragedy. If we do, though, I wouldn't be worried about our local DA's office not having experience with that system. They could, I'm sure, go to some other jurisdiction which does -- Colorado Springs comes to mind -- and learn as they go with plenty of experienced advice.

It just doesn't happen that a prosecution fails at trial over some error at the grand jury level, or that a grand jury error overturns a conviction on appeal. What I'm saying, Mr. Barkey, is you don't need the practice.

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