12 Apr Colorado judge sanctions Fremont County District Attorney Linda Stanley for repeatedly violating court procedures
By Matt Bloom
April 11, 2023
A Southern Colorado judge has thrown out first-degree murder charges in an active case in Fremont County to penalize a “pattern and practice” of discovery violations by 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley and her staff.
District Judge Kaitlin Turner cited 20 other mishandled cases from the past two years in her decision last week, arguing that Stanley’s staff had repeatedly failed to meet deadlines for providing the court with documents and evidence required by state and federal law.
The recent spate of botched cases, according to Turner, included allegations of assault, murder and child abuse, which have also resulted in sanctions against Stanley. In justifying her latest penalty, Turner concluded the DA had made similar violations of discovery rules in her case involving Joseph Tippet, who was arrested in Cañon City on Jan. 7 on suspicion of shooting his sleeping father in the back of the head.
She reduced Tippet’s first-degree murder charge to a lesser, second-degree charge as punishment against the DA’s office.
“The DA’s pattern of neglect reveals an urgent and serious need for the DA to modify its discovery practices,” Turner wrote.
In one of the cases cited in Turner’s order, Stanley’s office failed to disclose important medical records in their possession during criminal proceedings in 2021. As a result, the judge sanctioned Stanley and blocked testimony about alleged injuries, leading the DA’s office to dismiss its case.
In another, Stanley withheld evidence that proved a defendant’s innocence for over four months. The DA disclosed the evidence just six days before a trial was scheduled to begin, which resulted in a dismissal of the case.
Tippet’s case also suffered from mishandling, according to the order.
During initial court proceedings after Tippet’s arrest in January, the DA’s office missed an initial deadline for submitting discovery documents. Multiple deputy district attorneys juggled appearances for the case, sometimes arriving late and unprepared.
“You have to do your job,” the presiding judge told a deputy district attorney during a hearing on March 22, according to the order. “You simply have to do it and there is a pattern of this office not doing it.”
“Well, we’re doing the best we can,” the DDA said.
The DDA argued that Stanley’s office had provided taped confessions from Tippet “only 19 days late.”
Despite that, a public defender for Tippet concluded that it was impossible to provide a defense for Tippet given the lag in delivery of all discovery evidence for the case. Judge Turner agreed and ordered the sanctions.
“The onus for staffing and training issues should not be borne by the defendant,” Turner said.
The DA’s office did not return an emailed list of questions about the sanctions or pattern of violations. Stanley, a Republican, was elected in 2020 to represent the 11th Judicial District, which includes Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties.
Stanley’s latest sanctions come amid a Colorado Supreme Court investigation into her office. The court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel has the power to prosecute attorneys accused of violating Colorado’s professional conduct rules for district attorneys.
Jessica Yates, the current ARC, confirmed an inquiry was active, but declined to comment further.
“The general subject matter concerns the publicly known allegations regarding compliance with the ethical rules applicable to prosecutors,” Yates said in an email.
The ARC temporarily suspended Stanley’s law license last year after discovering she had missed three years of required continuing education and not submitted a makeup plan. Her license has since been reinstated, Yates said.
The counsel’s investigation was triggered by several complaints from defense attorneys, including representation for Barry Morphew, the husband of Suzanne Morphew, the 49-year-old Chaffee County resident who went missing in 2020.
Barry Morphew faced first-degree murder charges for her disappearance and was set to go to trial. Iris Eytan, Morphew’s defense attorney, filed a motion for sanctions ahead of the trial due to discovery violations, which was granted.
DA Stanley’s office dismissed the case shortly after in April 2022. A new trial has not been scheduled.
Eytan has also filed a new complaint against Stanley and other prosecutors involved in the Morphew case.
“Thirty percent of all exonerations in the country are a result of prosecutor misconduct,” Eytan said in an email. “It’s an epidemic, and prosecutors rarely get sanctioned or disciplined. I want them disciplined.”