Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek appears in court for petty offense charge
Next motions hearing set for Dec. 13
EAGLE — Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek made his first court appearance Friday for the petty offense charge he faces over money spent from a fund containing money seized by the Sheriff’s Office.
Van Beek was not formally read the charge in district court and did not enter a plea. His lawyer, David Kaplan of the Denver firm Haddon, Morgan and Foreman — the same firm that defended Kobe Bryant against rape charges in Eagle County — did most of the talking in Friday’s hearing.
Kaplan told judge Edward J. Casias that he has only received a couple of days of grand jury testimony and that he has requested transcripts and documents of the remaining testimony.
“We are really desirous of reviewing the grand jury testimony,” Kaplan told Casias. “I am hopeful we can seek a resolution to the case prior to the next court setting.”
That next court date will be at 9 a.m. on Dec. 13 after Casias, Kaplan and deputy district attorney Steve Mallory of the 9th Judicial District reviewed schedules. The 9th Judicial District, which encompasses Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties, is handling the case against van Beek. That’s because District Attorney Bruce Brown of the 5th Judicial District, which encompasses Eagle, Lake, Summit and Clear Creek counties, requested a special prosecutor.
“What I’m trying to do is make sure that both parties have enough time to pore over the grand jury information,” Casias said. “I know that the court reporter is pushing to get that completed.”
Motion to dismiss
Kaplan told Casias that he gave Mallory a motion to dismiss earlier that morning.
“In the materials I have reviewed, it’s apparent to me that there is a conflict with how this prosecution began because Mr. Brown, who is the district attorney in the 5th Judicial District, presented evidence to the grand jury, and then immediately filed a motion of a special prosecutor,” Kaplan said. “There was nothing that was additionally revealed from the time he presented to the grand jury to the time he thought it fit to request a special prosecutor.”
Kaplan then argued that it was inappropriate for Brown to present testimony in front of the grand jury and that Brown is a conflicted individual in the case.
“It’s clear from his own statements that he was a witness at the time and presenting that information,” Kaplan argued. “I think the motion to dismiss will undoubtedly be supplemented as we review the remaining testimony.”
At issue in the case is a county fund containing money the Sheriff’s Office seized. Brown convinced a grand jury that van Beek might be improperly spending money from that reserve fund and the grand jury indicted van Beek with a misdemeanor petty offense. Brown claims that he should have been part of any spending decisions.
Van Beek released a statement when the indictment was released, vowing to fight the charge.
“Our office will be fighting it because it implies dishonesty, which as an elected official, is unacceptable, and against my values,” van Beek said.
Van Beek, who is Eagle County’s only elected Republican, and Brown, a Democrat, are two of the three committee members who oversee that reserve fund. Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu is the third.
Van Beek said he was using the reserve fund in the same way that previous sheriffs have used it and called the allegations a “misinterpretation by the district attorney about the review process of confiscated monies, and specifically when a committee needs to be convened for additional approval.”
The grand jury indictment claims that forfeited local money in that fund was co-mingled with forfeited state funds. Treu said that isn’t possible because the fund has not contained any forfeited state money since 2012.
And since there was no confiscated money in the state fund, van Beek claims that he didn’t need approval from the other members overseeing the fund for expenditures.
The allegations include 14 previously approved expenditures made in 2019, including donations to local high school booster clubs, local little leagues and a new freezer for the county jail.
The approved expenditures also included paying a writer to pen columns for the Vail Daily twice a month. Those columns continue to appear in the Daily under van Beek’s byline and with his photo, but they are authored by Jacqueline Cartier, who also previously wrote columns for the Vail Daily under her own byline and made a failed run for a seat on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in 2018.
At the end of 2018, the forfeiture fund contained $81,239.51, according to Eagle County’s financials. In a Dec. 14, 2018, email to van Beek and Treu, Brown suggested that the money be transferred to bank accounts controlled by the District Attorney’s Office.