5th Judicial District Attorney’s office requested court records be sealed in Judge Thompson case
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum confirmed Monday, Oct. 18, that her office filed a single charge of felony menacing against the district’s Chief Judge Mark Thompson on Saturday, Oct. 16.
McCollum said the alleged incident took place July 25 in Summit County, as first reported by The Denver Post. But details about the incident remain scarce.
The Summit Daily News was given an anonymous tip regarding an allegation against Thompson in August but was unable to independently verify there was any criminal case against him until the Colorado Judicial Branch made the news public Saturday. During that time, several records requests made to various agencies have been denied, including to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which continues to investigate the allegation.
In the most recent records request denial Monday, the bureau claimed that the disclosure of any records would be contrary to public interest.
“It is still considered an active case from the (Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s) standpoint, and releasing any records could affect the integrity of the case,” bureau records manager Kristina Gavit wrote in an email.
Bureau spokesperson Susan Medina said Monday that the organization received a request to investigate a criminal allegation involving Thompson on July 25. She continued to say that agents conducted a number of interviews as part of the investigation and handed over that information to the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office on Sept. 2.
The lack of information surrounding the case is largely due to a motion, filed by the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, to suppress the records. That motion was obtained by the Summit Daily on Monday via the Colorado Judicial Department.
In the motion, McCollum wrote: “(Thompson) is a prominent member of the Summit County community and a public official in and for the 5th Judicial District, State of Colorado. The release at this time of any of the documents of record in this matter could result in disclosure of information that could result in destruction, or secreting evidence and tampering with identified and unidentified witnesses which could jeopardize the ongoing investigation and/or interfere with the rights of the defendant, including irreversible harm to reputation, and the defendant’s and the people’s right to a fair trial.”
In an interview Monday, McCollum said her goal wasn’t to hide anything from the public. Instead, she said she knew from the beginning that her office would be handing the case over to a special prosecutor and wanted to ensure that person would be able to handle it the way they chose. She said the motion called only for a temporary seal on the records with the intent that they would all eventually be subject to public scrutiny.
District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman granted the motion, according to court records. On Saturday, Dunkelman was appointed to replace Thompson as the district’s chief judge in an interim capacity until Thompson’s case is adjudicated.
Rob McCallum, public information officer with the Colorado Judicial Department, said officials haven’t been able to publicly acknowledge the case and or make records available because of the motion.
“When a case is suppressed, what that means is that only the parties and the judge have access to the case,” McCallum said. “… A motion needs to be made to suppress the file, and then the court needs to issue an order on that. That did happen in this instance. Because the case is suppressed, I have to get permission to release anything or even acknowledge the case exists.”
In a Saturday memo from State Court Administrator Steven Vasconcellos, it was noted that all judges in the district had recused themselves from handling Thompson’s case. The case has since been assigned to 17th Judicial District Judge Sean Finn to preside over until its conclusion.
McCallum said there would be a hearing between Finn and the parties involved in the case “in the near future” that would determine whether details would remain suppressed.
“Once that decision is made, if the case is unsuppressed, then everything within the file would be available to the public,” McCallum said.
Heidi McCollum said her office also filed a motion to appoint a special prosecutor for the case. The matter has been assigned to the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which typically handles matters in Jefferson and Gilpin counties. Michael Teague, director of public affairs for the office, wrote in an email that because the case has been suppressed, the records couldn’t be released, and he was unable to comment further.
Neither Thompson nor his attorney could be reached for comment Monday.
Rob McCallum said Thompson is currently on paid time off, which he said has nothing to do with the current allegation. Upon his return, Thompson will be allowed to resume his duties, just not as the chief judge.
“When he gets back, he will continue in his capacity as a judicial officer,” McCallum said. “What his docket would look like remains to be seen. … But Judge Thompson is a constitutional officer, and we at the State Court Administrator’s Office certainly do not have the authority or interest to suspend him from his duties.”