Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall will appear in court at 8:30 a.m. today, but little is expected from the proceedings.
Special prosecutor Karen Romeo has filed a motion for a change of venue in the case against Wall, who is accused of driving under the influence in October 2007. Routt County Judge James Garrecht has yet to rule on that motion, and Romeo said Tuesday that she doesn't expect him to rule today, either.
"We think he will set a new judge and the new judge will set a hearing to consider the motion," Romeo said.
At Wall's last court appearance, Garrecht said he would preside over the case's early stages to move it along procedurally, but said he would eventually recuse himself because of the court's close working relationship with the Routt County Sheriff's Office. Romeo said her motion likely rises to a level that will spur Garrecht's recusal.
"If Judge Garrecht feels he shouldn't hear the case, then the new judge should hear that motion," Romeo said.
The 14th Judicial District also recused itself from the case to avoid the same perceived conflict of interest, which is why Romeo, assistant district attorney for the Fifth Judicial District, was appointed special prosecutor.
In her motion to change venue, Romeo claims that a fair trial cannot be held in Routt County because of media coverage that has been "massive, pervasive and prejudicial to both sides, but more so to the defendant." She cites evidence that many in Routt County already have formed an opinion about the case, and attached to her motion four affidavits from local residents claiming the same and several pages of reader-submitted comments from the Pilot & Today's Web site, www.steamboatpilot.com.
Wall and his attorney, Ron Smith, have opposed Romeo's motion to change venue. On Tuesday, local attorneys said Romeo's motion and Smith's opposition to it are part of an underlying chess match between the two sides.
"This myth of a fair and impartial jury is exactly that," Steamboat Springs defense attorney Larry Combs said.
Combs said he questions the sincerity of Romeo's motion, which frames the request to change venue as something that would benefit Wall's chances at a fair trial. Local defense attorney Kris Hammond agreed and said the request likely boils down to the fact that the prosecution believes it has a better chance elsewhere.
"It's really unusual for the state to ask for a change of venue because they don't think the defendant will receive a fair trial," Hammond said. "I think the state wants to win the case. : Generally speaking, if your opponent wants something, they want it because it increases their odds of winning. And for the same reason, the other side would oppose it."
Local attorney Scott McGill said Wall's November 2006 victory at the polls might have influenced the decision by him and Smith to keep the trial in Routt County.
"I'm sure he must feel he has a better chance here than if the case was moved somewhere else," said McGill, who noted that while his firm, McGill Professional Law Corporation, does some defense work, he does not. "He's well enough liked to be elected."
"You have a defendant who is an elected official," Combs added. "The jury pool comes from this group of people who elected him. : If I was in Ron Smith's position, this is where I would want the case."
McGill noted that the prosecution also might be looking forward to the possibility of an appeal by the defense - the chances of which they would want to reduce.
"It's hard to know for certain, but one thing the DA is probably concerned about is whether there would be any grounds for an appeal if it's here," McGill said.
Wall was cited for driving under the influence and a related weapons charge on Oct. 27, 2007, when he was pulled over by the Colorado State Patrol near Walton Creek Road and U.S. Highway 40 for an alleged failure to dim his headlights.
The State Patrol revoked Wall's license because he refused to take a chemical breath test. Wall appealed the revocation to the Colorado Department of Revenue and was given a temporary driver's license. But in a Dec. 19 hearing, Department of Revenue hearing officer Art Julian upheld the State Patrol's yearlong revocation.
If Wall is convicted of DUI in a criminal trial, he faces an additional yearlong loss of his driver's license.
Romeo has spoken about the possibility of reaching a plea agreement with Wall rather than going to trial, but little progress has been made on that front.
"We have not reached a decision," Romeo said.