Judge dismisses significant allegations in DA’s contempt of court hearing

Payne will go trial for failure to follow court orders

RIO GRANDE COUNTY – In a ruling issued late Friday afternoon, Retired Judge Theresa Cisneros, presiding in the Contempt of Court case involving District Attorney Alonzo Payne, dismissed several major allegations included in the case.

Cisneros, formerly a district judge with the Fourth Judicial District, replaced Chief District Judge Michael Gonzales after Gonzales recused himself from the case.

The case largely revolves around a Contempt of Court citation issued by District Judge Hopkins related to a case of domestic violence that Payne was prosecuting and a subsequent plea deal that had been offered to the defendant.

Within the context of that case, several allegations were an issue for Cisneros, as became apparent by Cisneros’ line of questioning soon into the proceedings.

Specifically, Judge Cisneros asked Ms. Lake what she needed to prove in order to warrant a punitive “remedy” (that is, enforcement from the court that could involve jail time) for Contempt of Court. In response, Lake listed three actions.

According to Lake, Mr. Payne made a false statement to the court, which she stated is a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The purpose of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as enacted by the Colorado Supreme Court, is to establish standards of conduct of lawyers for the purpose of disciplinary action.

Lake also said she intended to prove that Mr. Payne had “improperly contacted a victim in the case” which she alleged was a violation of the state Constitution.

Third, Lake alleged that Mr. Payne failed to follow court orders, referencing – as was stated in the citation – his failure on two occasions to file the dismissal of charges within a designated period of time prior to trial as ordered by District Judge Hopkins.

Mr. Hutt raised the point that there is the requirement for Ms. Lake to prove that actions were done with knowledge of the actions. Lake responded that she had documentation to that effect.

In the proceedings, Judge Cisneros stated that she planned to issue a ruling regarding the court’s authority to rule in relation to the Rules of Professional Conduct and mentioned the possibility of striking everything but failure to follow court orders.

After asking a number of questions of both the defense and the special prosecutor, court was adjourned. The ruling was issued several hours later.

In her ruling, Judge Cisneros cites Mr. Payne saying that he “was not informed of the precise conduct alleged to constitute contempt.” She further writes that “Mr. Payne argues that his due process rights entitle him to written notice of the precise conduct alleged to constitute contempt.”

Judge Cisneros agreed with Payne and that “the contempt citations fail to apprise him of the precise conduct alleged to constitute contempt.”

Payne had also requested that the special prosecutor be prohibited from seeking a punitive sanction.

In the conclusion of her ruling, Judge Cisneros dismissed “all allegations that Mr. Payne is in contempt of the Rules of Professional Conduct” as well as dismissal “that he is in contempt of court for violating Article II, Section 16a of the Colorado Constitution pertaining to rights of alleged victims…and for lack of notice as to the conduct alleged to be contemptuous.”

In her ruling, Cisneros denied the request that the special prosecutor be prohibited from seeking a punitive sanction. The special prosecutor had indicated that jail time may be requested as a punitive sanction. In her order, Judge Cisneros wrote that nothing prohibits the special prosecutor from requesting jail time and “the Court will address the sufficiency of the evidence to impose a jail sentence if Mr. Payne is found in contempt.”

The court then ordered a trial be held on the only remaining issue of whether Payne violated the court orders regarding dismissal of actions prior to trial.

When asked for a comment on the ruling, Ms. Lake wrote, “[Judge Cisneros’) ruling may require clarification. Essentially the professional conduct is exclusively attorney regulation and the Supreme Court. As to the constitution and statutory issues, this is where we may be asking for clarification.”

The trial date is set for May 26 at 9:00 a.m. at the Rio Grande County courthouse in Del Norte.


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