Colorado judge, court clerk named in federal lawsuit
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Three Colorado court officials are the subjects of a federal lawsuit claiming that innocent people are being arrested illegally for violating protection orders that are invalid.
Mesa County’s Chief Judge Brian Flynn, Court Clerk Charlene Benton and 21st Judicial District Court Supervisor Ruth Ann Brigham were named in the suit.
The suit alleges that the three defendants knew that the judicial district’s system of negating protection orders after defendants have served their sentences was broken and that they failed to fix the problem.
The lawyer in the case, James Roberts, said that his client, Elson Foster, had been arrested by police seven times in 2018 for violating the same mandatory protection order even though the order should have been updated in the court’s systems as invalid.
Each of Foster’s cases were dismissed after he and his public defenders explained to their judges that the protection order was invalid.
Roberts cites four examples of clients who had finished their sentences, but were re-arrested on active protection orders that should have been deemed void.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court by a Texas-based civil rights law firm on behalf of a Colorado resident, The Daily Sentinel reported.
The three defendants in the case did not respond to inquiries for comment.
The suit alleges that Flynn has known about the problem since he was named chief judge in 2018, but has done nothing to ameliorate the issue.
“Chief Judge Flynn was already on notice that his policies related to vacating mandatory protection orders were allowing innocent citizens’ constitutional rights to be violated by being illegally arrested and detained,” Roberts writes in the lawsuit. “His written policy literally acknowledges ... exact injuries suffered by Mr. Foster in this case, however, he failed to act in a manner that would prevent the constitutional violations.”
The suit cites numerous emails from Flynn and now-retired Chief Judge David Bottger from 2016, when Deputy Public Defender Scott Burrill first alerted Bottger about the issue.