Lawyer, judge explode in Moffat County court

Tempers flared in Moffat County District Court on Wednesday after a judge ordered an area lawyer to pay wages to a former employee.

Chief District Judge Michael O'Hara threatened to send lawyer Heather Turner to jail over a heated verbal dispute in open court after the lawyer was ordered to pay wages to a former employee.

"You're going to make a big mistake and you're going to go to jail," O'Hara told Turner. "Do not be rude."

Turner stormed into the courtroom after O'Hara had ruled she pay former employee, Donald Lindley $2,396.52 for garnished wages in a small claims case. Turner countersued Lindley for $7,499 -- a dollar short of the statutory limit one can sue for in small claims cases in Colorado.

Turner said she knew she was not going to be able to make the hearing and had filed a motion to change the time and date. Moffat County Judge Mary Lynne James usually presides over the county's small claims cases, but the county judge previously recused herself from this case. Turner said a new setting in front of Judge O'Hara was made without her present and she wasn't able to fit Wednesday's case into her schedule.

O'Hara said he made phone calls Wednesday to Steamboat Springs courthouse and Turner's offices looking for her. He was not successful and started the hearing without her.

Turner said by telephone Thursday that she originally wanted to press charges against former employee, Lindley for theft, but Steamboat Springs Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James refused to prosecute her case.

St. James was not available for comment Thursday, but District Attorney Bonnie Roesink said there was not probable cause for the attorney to prosecute the case.

Because of Wednesday's proceedings, Turner said she is appealing the case and is filing a request with Colorado's attorney general to investigate the matter. Turner said she will request that Judge O'Hara recuse himself from any of her cases in the future. That ultimately is O'Hara's decision to make because he is the Chief District Judge in the 14th Judicial District.

Turner, who has been practicing law locally since February, said she feels like there is a "conspiracy" against her as she applied for but didn't receive a position as a deputy district attorney in Steamboat Springs. Turner also has made statements about planning to run for district attorney when that position -- currently held by Bonnie Roesink -- comes up for election in three years.

Turner said she has years of experience as a prosecutor in Colorado.

"I'm loud, I know the laws, and they know it," Turner said.

Amy Hamilton can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 208, or ahamilton@craigdailypress.com.

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