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Contempt of court charges against DA Frank Ruybalid dismissed

WALSENBURG — Contempt of court charges filed against Third Judicial District Attorney Frank Ruybalid were dismissed here Thursday, March 19, after a brief hearing in District Court. Ruybalid faced the charges when no attorney from the DA’s office appeared in court for three criminal hearings on Thursday, December 11, 2014. The three separate criminal cases against defendants Noah A. Graf, Jodie Howard and Michael Montez were dismissed by the court when they were called due to the lack of a prosecutor in the courtroom. District Judge Claude Appel had no option but to dismiss the cases, but cited Ruybalid for contempt of court. Appel sat in the unfamiliar position as a spectator during the proceeding on March 19. Graf had faced 10 local charges including: two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute, one count was a class 2 felony, the other a class 3 felony; first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft, class four felony; second degree criminal trespass, a class four felony; criminal mischief, a class four felony; vehicular eluding, a class five felony, obstructing a peace officer, class two misdemeanor, driving under restraint, eluding a peace officer and speeding. Howard, in a companion case with Graf, had been charged with theft over $20,000, a class three felony, possession of a schedule II controlled substance with intent to manufacture or distribute, a class three felony and vehicular eluding, a class five felony. Montez had been charged in association with an assault at the Huerfano County Jail in late November 2014. The charges dismissed against him were retaliation against a witness or victim, a class

three felony and assault in the third degree, a class three misdemeanor. The case was heard by Judge C. Vincent Phelps and was prosecuted by former Denver County Judge Raymond N. Satter, who had been appointed special prosecutor in this matter. The plea agreement called for Ruybalid to make a public apology to the citizens of the judicial district, the court and to local law enforcement. Satter said in the court filing as Special Counsel/Prosecutor of Contempt, he moves this, “…Honorable Court to dismiss with prejudice the three citations for contempt of court in People v. Noah A. Graf 14-CR-50, People v. Jodie Howard, 14-CR-51 and People v. Michael Montez, 14-CR-130 brought against Francisco E. Ruybalid IV, the contemnor in all three actions. As grounds therefore, the prosecution submits Mr. Ruybalid has made a public apology for the events of December 11, 2014, and has thereby purged himself of contempt of this court.” In addition to his apology, Ruybalid explained to the court his office had been without a deputy DA from mid-October 2014, until attorney Steven Jones had been hired part time while a search for a full time attorney continued. Ruybalid said there was a mix-up between he and Jones regarding who was covering which court in the two-county judicial district. Ruybalid said, while not blaming Jones for the missed appearance, that he was in court in Huerfano for a trial that ended up being dismissed and it appeared Jones thought Ruybalid would be covering all the hearings in Huerfano District Court that day. Jones had written a letter to Judge Phelps, he received Thursday, March 19, that contradicted to some degree, Ruybalid’s explanation. Jones’ letter said in effect, that Jones had made it clear to the district attorney that he would be in court in Pueblo, CO December 11, the day the three cases appeared on the Huerfano District Court docket. Judge Phelps made Jones’ letter available to both Satter and Ruybalid to read and review before he ruled on the proposed plea agreement. Satter had provided Jones with Ruybalid’s apology statement prior to the March 19 hearing. Jones said in his letter there was no misunderstanding or assumption he would cover those cases as he was committed to a case in Pueblo. “If there was a misunderstanding, 99 to 100 percent it was on your part,” Phelphs said to Ruybalid. While the hearing Thursday lasted only about 20 minutes, Phelps said he had always known Satter to be a fair and equable judge and attorney, but had another special prosecutor been assigned to the case, “it may have been a long day for all of us.”