Records show court workers’ legal trouble
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY” Daniel Ramirez, who’s on probation for driving under the influence, says his probation officer shouldn’t be going through the criminal legal system at the same time he is.
“They are human beings and they can make a mistake,” said Ramirez, 25, of Avon. “But they have to take responsibility for what they’ve done just as they make me take responsibility.”
According to anonymous letter received in February by La Tribuna, authorities from the 5th Judicial District probation department ” which covers Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties ” allowed two probation officers to keep working while one had an outstanding arrest warrant in another county and the other faced court sanctions for possession of marijuana.
According to court documents, the probation department hired John Watt as a probation officer in September 2001, though the Jefferson County had issued an arrest warrant for Watt for failure to comply. According to court documents, Watt kept working for a year and a half while the arrest warrant was still out.
Another probation officer, Mark Cordova, was charged with possession of less than one ounce of marijuana just a month after starting to work for the 5th Judicial District in 2001.
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According to the Office of the State Court Administrator, Cordova kept working for the probation department while he was under a deferred sentence after he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana in August 2001. The case was dismissed in April 2002 once the deferred sentence was completed.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said is it’s concerning if a person is still acting as a probation officer while they have a case pending or a warrant outstanding.
“You would hope they would be placed on leave until the case is over,” Hurlbert said. “I don’t know what the policy is in the probation office, but in the District Attorney’s Office, if a deputy district attorney is charged with a crime, other than a traffic infraction, they are immediately let go.
“I feel that as prosecutors who work for the people that we are held to a higher standard,” he said.
Chief Laurel Lamont of the Fifth Judicial District Probation Department declined to make comments for this story, citing personnel issues.
But Rob McCallum, spokesman for the Office of the State Court Administrator of Colorado, confirmed in a letter to La Tribuna that Watt had been employed as a probation officer from Sept. 3 2001 to Jan. 8, 2004.
“According to our records, Mr. Watt resigned,” McCallum wrote in his letter to La Tribuna.
Cordova was hired on July 1, 2001 and is still working as a a pprobation officer, the letter said.
McCallum declined to answer more questions, saying the additional information requested by La Tribuna didn’t fall under the purview of the Colorado Open Records Act.
In 2006, the Eagle County Courts ordered Patricia, who asked her last name not be used, to see her probation officer in Eagle once a month, which cost $50 a visit.
“The law already isn’t the same for everyone,” said Patricia, 29, of Avon, who was charged with domestic violence. “I believe they should be suspended until their cases are cleared.”
In the description of the job provided by the Colorado Judicial Branch, a person who has a criminal history isn’t precluded from applying for a job as a probation officer. The Colorado Judicial Branch asks for a four-year college degree.
Upon hire and as a condition of continued employment, the employee must receive acceptable reviews to keep their jobs.
Stacey Horn, a probation officer in Eagle County, said she and her colleagues can have a great impact on the lives of people who have been accused of crimes and are facing prison sentences or other punishments.
“A probation officer could recommend the highest sanctions in a case,” she said.
Though Hurlbert and his deputy district attorneys rely on the probation officers’ investigations, the sentences the prosecutors recommned to judges are their own, he said.
“If a court official is under court sanctions, he shouldn’t work for the courts until his case is resolved,” Horn said. “The same for some attorneys. You can’t be objective if you are under the same restrictions. People make mistakes and can fix them.”