People v. Solis.
2022 CO 53. No. 22SA200. Motion to Disqualify District Attorney—CRS § 20-1-107(2)—Special Circumstances.
November 14, 2022
In this interlocutory appeal, the elected district attorney for Colorado’s Seventh Judicial District contended that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the defense’s motion to disqualify the entire district attorney’s office from this case. Defendant argued he was unlikely to receive a fair trial because an attorney who formerly represented him as a public defender in the underlying case began working for the district attorney’s office. There is no dispute that the attorney was disqualified from the case. The question presented here was whether the entire district attorney’s office must be disqualified.
The trial court initially found that the district attorney’s office had a screening policy in place and was persuaded that the attorney had not and would not divulge any of defendant’s confidences to his new colleagues. The public defender’s office then filed a motion for reconsideration after learning that the attorney had appeared for the district attorney’s office in two unrelated misdemeanor cases involving a different client. Upon reconsideration, the trial court remained persuaded that the attorney had not and would not divulge any of defendant’s confidences but nonetheless held that special circumstances existed under CRS § 20-1-107(2) requiring not just the attorney’s disqualification but also disqualification of the entire district attorney’s office.
The Supreme Court concluded there is no evidence in the record that indicates that the confidential information obtained by the attorney about defendant’s case has not been and cannot continue to be adequately screened, given the district attorney’s office’s screening policy and the additional safeguards it implemented, from the attorneys prosecuting the defendant’s case. For this reason, and because the trial court based its ruling on an unrelated event and what might happen in the future, the Court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in granting defendant’s motion. Accordingly, the Court reversed the disqualification order and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.