Taxpayer tab tops $28K in district attorney’s dismissed petty offense case against the sheriff |

Taxpayer tab tops $28K in district attorney’s dismissed petty offense case against the sheriff

Tab does not include staff time in Bruce Brown’s case against Sheriff James van Beek, which was dismissed

District Attorney Bruce Brown's petty offense case Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek will cost Eagle County taxpayers $28,481.73 in defense attorney fees. That does not include staff time for Eagle County employees or the DA's office, which handles Eagle, Lake, Clear Creek and Summit counties. The case was dismissed by a special prosecutor. Here, van Beek, center, is flanked by van Beek's defense attorney David Kaplan, left, and Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu.
Mort Mulliken | Special to the Daliy

EAGLE — Eagle County taxpayers paid $28,481.73 just in defense attorney fees for District Attorney Bruce Brown’s petty offense case against the sheriff.

That total for Brown’s case against Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek does not include staff time, only attorney fees paid to David Kaplan with the firm of Haddon Morgan.

The charge was dismissed when a special prosecutor said he could not prove the case.

Brown, a Democrat, brought the petty offense charge against van Beek, Eagle County’s only elected Republican, over a disagreement about spending from an account of seized money. Van Beek and Brown, along with Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu, comprise the three-member committee that handles the money.

“To date, the county has paid $28,481.73 to the firm of Haddon Morgan (and van Beek’s attorney David Kaplan) to defend the sheriff,” Treu said.

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$28K does not include time

The price tag does not include the staff time spent by Eagle County employees who were forced to travel to Summit County to testify as Brown presented the case to a grand jury. At one point Brown subpoenaed three Eagle County employees who spent a day traveling to and from Breckenridge and testifying before the grand jury, Treu said.

“My office does not bill or track hourly, but I would anticipate we spent an equal amount of time on the sheriff’s defense as Haddon Morgan,” Treu said. “Additionally, the county had three county employees travel to Summit County for Grand Jury testimony pursuant to subpoenas issued by Mr. Brown.”

Treu said employees of the county attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, and finance department also spent “numerous hours” producing documents that Brown requested.

Nor does that $28,481 price tag include staff time spent by the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office, or staff time for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s office that was called in as special prosecutors to handle the case.

Brown declined to provide that information, saying there is no expense related to this investigation that he is aware of.

“At the DA’s office we don’t track time expended on matters. Staff are paid for the time they are on the job, not working on any particular task,” Brown said in an email, responding to a request for that information.

Brown referred further requests to the Ninth Judicial District, the special prosecutor assigned to the case. That judicial district said it doesn’t track hours spent on a case, either.

“The Office of the District Attorney for the 9th Judicial District does not regularly track time spent on individual cases whether it be by the attorney, support staff or anyone else, nor do we track expenses for our cases,” Ninth District deputy district attorney Steve Mallory wrote in an email. “Cases assigned to our office as a special prosecutor are no different.”

It’s a reciprocal arrangement, Mallory said.

The Ninth Judicial District, based in Glenwood Springs, serves as special prosecutor for Eagle, Moffat, and Mesa counties, Mallory said. In turn the Office of the District Attorney for the Fifth, 14th and 21st judicial districts are assigned as special prosecutors for some of the Ninth Judicial District’s cases.

“That arrangement is a collaborative effort and has not been reduced to specific billings for each case,” Mallory said.

Fund at the center of disagreement

The tempest began when then-Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, also a Democrat, spoke with Brown in a parking lot after a meeting. Ryan since resigned from the Eagle County board of commissioners when Gov. Jared Polis appointed her as executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Ryan did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

The dustup centered on a disagreement over spending from a fund of confiscated money — also called a forfeiture fund. Brown demanded that the accounts be frozen, and the $81,239.51 in them be deposited in bank accounts that the district attorney’s office controls.

Van Beek and Treu said no, prompting Brown’s grand jury case and the investigation by the special prosecutor.

Among van Beek’s expenditures from that fund were a new freezer for the jail, paying a ghostwriter to produce his columns published in the Vail Daily, crimestopper rewards, and support for Little League baseball teams and a local high school booster club.

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