The recent passage into state law of Senate Bill 19-191 (SB19-191) by the Colorado General Assembly requires that recently arrested persons be able to post bond within two hours of their arrests with nominal processing fees, with release from a detention facility within four hours. The bill requires each of the state’s judicial districts to develop a plan for a bond hearing within two hours of the arrest, with the application of bond funds going toward fees, costs, fines, restitution or surcharges. The act creates rights for defendants related to release on bond, and it might work well for urban and metro judicial districts that have plenty of resources available, but it could create problems for rural districts, such as the Third Judicial District composed of Las Animas and Huerfano Counties, in meeting the manpower and financial requirements of the new legislation, especially with limited staffing on weekends.
The issues involved were the subjects of an informal, non-voting work session held on Tuesday, July 23 between court officials, county commissioners of both counties in the judicial district and law enforcement to figure out how to handle the workload going into the future. Third District Chief Judge Leslie J. Gerbracht asked the other parties at the informal meeting to come up with ideas that could lead to solutions for the many issues involved.
“We need to be able to accurately give a report on what this is going to mean in practical terms for rural Colorado,” Judge Gerbracht said. “Whatever that comes out to be, that’s what it comes out to be.”
Gerbracht said a second meeting would be required in the near future to finalize the Third District’s new plan. She asked all parties at the informal meeting to send her their thoughts on the issues involved before the second meeting was held.
District Attorney Henry Solano said he wanted to eliminate the possibility of having to have separate hearings in both counties on the same legal issues.
Gerbracht said a cost analysis showed that it would be very expensive to have both courthouses, one in Trinidad and the other in Walsenburg, open on every weekend to meet the requirements of the new legislation. She said the district now has a system where the on-call judge has a system where the online affidavits are e-mailed to a specific address. “Whoever the on-call judge is goes into that e-mail address on the weekends and will review the affidavit and sign it if it’s appropriate, then forward it on to whoever needs to have it,” she said. “That is being done, but it’s meeting face to face for video advisement, where there’s the chance for the defendant to justify their bond or whatever. I really think the way we need to start with this is that we need to start with each county‘s budget for having each courthouse open each weekend, because that’s going to be the tough end.
“Whether we can bring it down and say, ‘Las Animas County will open their courthouse one Saturday, and then we’ll video in to the Huerfano County Jail’, and then the next week it will switch and we can take turns. I think we compare it and break it down. I think that’ where we need to start with what it’s going to cost.”
“It’s kind of the worst case scenario, but I think it’s where we need to start as far as what this system’s going to cost.”
Third District Court Administrator Bob Kreiman said technology issues were at the heart of the problem of fulfilling the requirements of the new legislation. “We’re relying on new technology, and every time you rely on new technology it’s going to break. If we do that and the technology’s not working, then we have to do Las Animas County indictments in Huerfano County, if we’re going to follow the new statute,” he said. “Then we have to take the indictments out of town and we have to move and transport amendments from this county to the other. There’s hidden costs that we have to catch.”
Gerbracht said the District Court system was already some moving some of its court documents from one courthouse to another, but didn’t want to continue that practice as long as the new technology was working efficiently.
Third District Court Judge John “Clay” McKisson III, said he was concerned that the new system might not work effectively in some parts of rural Colorado and could be very expensive for the courts to implement.
“This is a great idea as far as reducing pre-trial incarceration, but at what cost?” Judge McKisson asked. “We’re putting the cart before the horse here.”
Gerbracht said that whatever response the informal committee decided to send back to the state, it was important that the group keep meeting on a regular basis to develop the most effective Pre-trial Services program it could, and at the lowest possible cost.
A check of several Colorado media sources suggested that many other rural judicial districts in the state were faced with the same set of problems when it came to effectively implementing the provisions of SB 19-191.