New judge to hear Wall case
Prosecution, defense venue dispute spurs Garrecht's recusal
February 6, 2008
Steamboat Springs — A new judge will hear the case against Gary Wall, and his first order of business will be whether to grant a new trial location for the Routt County sheriff accused of driving under the influence of alcohol.
A dispute between the prosecution, which wants to move the case, and Wall’s defense, which does not, proved significant enough to spur the recusal of Routt County Judge James Garrecht.
“Since there is now a contested issue, it is now time for this judge to recuse himself from this matter to avoid all appearances of impropriety,” Garrecht wrote in a recusal order dated Jan. 16. “The close working relationship between the Routt County and district judges and the Routt County sheriff inherently creates an appearance of potential impropriety.”
Evan Herman, district administrator for Colorado’s 14th Judicial District, said retired Grand County Judge Cecil Wayne Williams will take over the case when it reconvenes at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 13 in Routt County Court.
In a motion dated Jan. 7, prosecutor Karen Romeo requested that the trial be moved to a venue outside Routt County because of media coverage that has been “massive, pervasive and prejudicial to both sides, but more so to the defendant.”
In his Jan. 29 response to Romeo’s motion, Steamboat Springs attorney Ron Smith, Wall’s lawyer, opposes a venue change and questions Romeo’s right to request it. Smith cites case law and state statute supporting his view that venue changes are for the benefit of the defendant alone. Smith also claims that venue changes are appropriate only with more heinous charges such as murder. Smith also says a change of venue could prove unfair to Wall, who plans to call 25 Routt County witnesses who would be burdened by traveling to another location.
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Last month, three Steamboat defense attorneys speculated that the venue dispute is part of an underlying chess match between the two sides. They said it makes sense for Smith to want to keep the case in a county where Wall was popular enough to be elected, and they questioned the sincerity of Romeo’s motion, which frames the request to change venue as something that would benefit Wall’s chances at a fair trial.
On Tuesday, Romeo admitted that a venue change would probably help her case, but she maintained that her primary reason for requesting a venue change was to ensure a fair trial for Wall.
“As a district attorney, I have obligations to both the defendant and the community,” Romeo said. “I am being sincere.”
Williams, the judge replacing Garrecht, is a member of the Colorado Judicial Branch’s senior judge program, which assigns retired judges, at the request of trial courts, to hear cases in which the trial judges have recused themselves or are otherwise unable to oversee cases. Williams joined the Grand County bench in 1992 and retired at the end of 2002.
Wall was cited for driving under the influence and a related weapons charge Oct. 27, 2007. The Colorado State Patrol revoked Wall’s license because he refused to take a chemical breath test. Wall appealed the revocation to the Colorado Department of Revenue, but the yearlong revocation was upheld. If Wall is convicted of DUI in a criminal trial, he faces an additional yearlong loss of his driver’s license.
Romeo has discussed the possibility of a plea agreement, but said Tuesday that a resolution has not been reached.