No decision made on paying deputy's legal fees

Legal fees for a deputy who has pleaded not guilty to a charge in a traffic accident that left a Craig man and his daughter injured could cost more than $6,000, Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead told the county commissioners Wednesday.

St. Paul Fire & Marine, the county's insurer, has agreed to pay $2,000 for Deputy Courtland Folks' legal defense.

Grinstead asked Wednesday if the county would allow county attorney Kathleen Taylor to represent Folks. If it wouldn't, the sheriff asked if the county would pay the difference in the legal fees not covered by the $2,000 in insurance money.

After a lengthy discussion that included the accident victim's father, Tommy Maneotis, the commissioners told Grinstead they would consider his request.

"I'm happy to see the insurance company is stepping up to the plate," Grinstead said. "But I'm dissatisfied with $2,000. There's no question Courtland was acting within the scope of his employment."

But all three commissioners met Grinstead's request with skepticism.

"The insurance company thought $2,000 was adequate for a traffic violation," Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. "The concern here is that we're setting a precedent for future accidents by employees driving county vehicles."

Commissioner Darryl Steele said in running his own business, he never covered the legal fees of his truck drivers if they were at fault in an accident, or if they were ticketed.

"If one of my truck drivers got a citation and it was caused by my company or another employer I paid it," Steele said. "I never paid any citations. My instructions were that they operate legally within the law in driving that vehicle."

But Grinstead said the question was whether Folks was at fault.

"You're innocent until proven guilty," Grinstead said. "If he is acquitted of the charges will Moffat County then pay?"

The commissioners did not give Grinstead an answer Wednesday and said they would have to further consider his request.

In the midst of the commissioners' discussion with Grinstead, Tommy Maneotis asked if he could speak.

Tommy Maneotis is the father of Tony Maneotis, whose dodge pickup slammed into the side of Folks' patrol vehicle on Feb. 7.

Maneotis was eastbound moving through the intersection of state Highway 13 and West Victory Way under a green light. He was taking his 13-year-old daughter to school.

Folks, northbound on state Highway 13, was in route to an emergency call on Moffat County Road 203 and entered the intersection under a red light when the collision occurred. His emergency lights and siren were engaged.

Folks was charged with failure to obey a traffic control device, which carries penalties of $56 in fines and surcharges, in addition to four points on a driver's license upon conviction.

"My mind is boggled as to what is happening here," Tommy Maneotis said Wednesday.

Maneotis cited apparent discrepancies in what he said was the original charges filed by officers with the Colorado State Patrol who handled the investigation and actual charges filed against Folks in court.

"There's a rat in the nest," Maneotis said. "Nobody amended my charges before I went to court when I had a traffic violation," he said. "They (the District Attorney's office) lessened his charges before anyone could even judge."

He also questioned Folks' failure to appear in court April 9. On that date, Judge Mary Lynne James originally convicted Folks of the traffic violation then later rescinded the conviction after it was discovered that Folks' attorney had apparently contacted the court clerk's office but there was miscommunication between the judge and her staff.

"Anytime I've seen where you don't show up for court, you're done for," Maneotis said.

Maneotis said he was frustrated taxpayers might be asked to cover the deputy's legal fees.

"I'll be damned if I sit here as a taxpayer and watch you ask me to pay the lawyer fees," he said.

At the end of the meeting, Grinstead told the commissioners to consider his request.

"If you want to mull it over, I don't expect a decision today,"

he said.

Like his fellow commissioners, Les Hampton questioned the sheriff's proposition.

"There's no way under these conditions I would spend $2,000 to save $56 and four points on my license," he said.

"I have an obligation to protect my employees and that's what we're doing," Grinstead said after the meeting.

Folks' trial is scheduled for June 18 in Moffat County Court before James.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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