ALAMOSA — Following his seventh contempt of court violation—more than any other person in the state of Colorado—Robert Gregg Sease was sentenced to jail time and a fine yet to be determined in Chief District Judge Pattie Swift’s court on Monday.
What is as equally unusual as the number of times Sease, 74, has been found in contempt of court is the nature of his violations—water.
The Denver-area businessman who owns a ranch on Sheep Creek in Saguache County has repeatedly violated the court’s order not to do anything on the ranch related to water without first seeking permission from the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Monday was not the first time Sease was sentenced to jail time. In October 2013 Judge Swift sentenced Sease to 30 days jail and ordered $160,320 in fines and fees for contempt of court. His case dates back more than a decade, Assistant Attorney General Michael Toll reminded the court. Cumulatively Sease has been assessed $290,00 in fines and other court-imposed costs. That does not include a federal fine of $100,000, he added.
On Monday the judge sentenced Sease to 90 days in the Saguache County Jail, to begin next Monday, April 17, with the possibility of work release after 30 days. She also ordered him to pay attorney fees for the Attorney General’s office, which has handled this case on behalf of the water division, and a fine that will be determined after she receives documents regarding Sease’s financial situation.
The Attorney General’s office requested six months jail and a fine of $400,000.
“This is the seventh time this court has found Mr. Sease to be in contempt of court,” Toll said. “Mr. Sease had been found in contempt of court more than any other person in the state of Colorado.”
Toll said Sease’s repeated violations warranted six months in jail without work release or early release for good behavior.
Both Toll and Judge Swift reminded Sease that after the court had ordered in no uncertain terms that he do nothing on his ranch related to water without first receiving written permission from the water division, he had still conducted water-related actions, which resulted in 17 separate violations such as dredging the stream channel and laying pipe, which he has since removed.
“I am curious what you were thinking that somehow you could put a pipeline into a ditch and it would have nothing to do with what you were ordered not to do in this order?” Swift asked Sease.
Sease told the judge that he truly believed once the water passed onto his property he could do with it as he wanted as long as he used it on the parcel to which it was allotted.
“I used bad judgment,” he said. “I made a terrible mistake. I am doing my very best and I am very sad that I am here in front of you.”
Earlier in the April 10 sentencing hearing he said, “I am embarrassed and very sick that I am in front of you again and have not solved the issues and problems here.”
Sease said he now has a partner in the ranch, former long-time water commissioner Tim Lovato, who is overseeing all of the water issues to make sure they are properly conducted.
One of Sease’s attorneys, Jack Rotolo said that although Sease has never seen a doctor for it, he believes Sease has attention deficit syndrome.
“Sometimes he will do things because he doesn’t think them through, maybe due to his age,” Rotolo said.
He referred to a recent instance when Sease went to Dubai, where he conducts business, but did not realize he had made no appointment, which was required, so he was sent home.
Rotolo said Sease had some medical appointments, such as a colonoscopy and perhaps some nose surgery, coming up in the next month or so, and Judge Swift said he could have a furlough from his jail sentence but then return to jail after his medical appointments.
Rotolo also said Sease’s finances are not that great right now, so he asked the judge not to impose a large fine. Rotolo said Sease has only paid 20 percent of his bill to his firm, and if he were not such a good friend, he would not continue to represent him without payment.
“He’s very much in debt,” Rotolo said. “We have stayed with the case because he’s Gregg Sease and he’s a good man, but he doesn’t have it [money.]”
Rotolo said Sease employs about 24 people on the ranch, and the man who runs the ranch told Rotolo “it hasn’t been doing that well.”
Rotolo said the court’s last fine against Sease was the highest he had ever seen, criminal or civil, and Sease had to bring a partner into his business to pay the fine then because he did not personally have the money.
Rotolo also said Sease’s history is not relevant, only this current contempt of court case, and the real violation here was that Sease did not get permission from the division engineer’s office before completing work, some of which probably would have been approved if he had asked.
Rotolo said it seemed that the AG’s office was asking for such a severe punishment because “he’s been here so damn many times.”
Judge Swift said the fine she imposed would depend, at least in part, on Sease’s financial circumstances.
However, she added, “I will be imposing some fine.”
She suggested a tax return would suffice, but Rotolo indicated it would take more work than that to gather the necessary financial documents.
Judge Swift recounted some of the court’s history with Sease including a hearing last June when she found Sease in contempt of court for the seventh time and determined beyond a reasonable doubt that he had violated the court’s order that included an agreement Sease had stipulated to on October 24, 2013.
“I found that you had at least 17 violations of that order of mine,” the judge told Sease.
She added that she put off Sease’s sentencing for various reasons, and although Rotolo suggested that the judge should delay the sentencing until Sease completed work on the ranch to remediate the violations (expected in May), Swift said she was not going to do that.
“You have violated this court’s order again,” she told Sease.
Judge Swift referred to the lone witness’ testimony presented during the sentencing hearing on Monday, Duane Helton, whom she accepted as an expert in water resources engineering. Helton testified that Sease’s most recent 17 violations resulted in minimal injury to the stream system, with some of the violations resulting in no injury at all. Helton calculated that 10 areas where dredging occurred would make about .1 acre foot difference, “very, very, very small impact,” and in the approximately six areas where materials were placed in the channel resulted in about .04 acre foot difference, “a very, very small number.”
Swift said although the violations this time may have involved a very small amount of water, the court’s order was for Sease to do nothing without permission from the division engineer, and Sease violated that order.
“I have no disagreement with Mr. Helton’s testimony, but it does not change this court’s consideration what’s the appropriate thing to do in this case, because my concern is you have repeatedly chosen to not do what the court told you to,” Swift told Sease.
The judge said she might view this differently if Sease had not been before her so many times and signed a stipulation.
“You just completely disregarded the court’s order,” the judge told Sease. “I said don’t do it, and you just did it … You have done it in the past. You have violated this court’s order repeatedly … I have to enforce my order or, again, we won’t have a rule of law. That is what this sentence is intended to do.”