DA remains on welfare fraud case
January 8, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Chief District Judge James Boyd on Wednesday denied a motion to disqualify District Attorney Sherry Caloia from prosecuting a local woman on charges of stealing more than $56,000 in medical, food and burial benefits from the Garfield County Department of Human Services and the state of Colorado.
As part of his reasoning for denying the motion, submitted by Deputy Public Defender Tina Fang, Boyd remarked that disqualification from the case, and a resultant appointment of a special prosecutor in the case against Idalia Muñoz-Morales, might subject Caloia's office to similar attempts by defense attorneys in future theft cases.
Bur for a number of other reasons, Boyd ruled that the "facts" presented by Fang at a hearing Wednesday afternoon were "insufficient to grant the motion to disqualify."
Among other causes, Boyd concluded that while Fang's motion was "not technically deficient," it failed to show that Caloia stood to "gain some advantage … if she appears to be tough on theft" in the Muñoz-Morales case.
The charges against Muñoz-Morales, 38, are that she defrauded the county and the state of more than $56,000 worth of food stamps (known as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP) and Medicaid benefits, by lying to authorities and pretending her husband, Luis A. Martinez, had been deported and was not living with her or their family in a house she claimed to be renting.
An investigation allegedly revealed that Martinez had been living with Muñoz-Morales in a home that they had purchased, and that he had been working and contributing to the family's finances for several years.
Fang's motion argued that Caloia harbored a strong bias against defendants accused of theft, fraud or embezzlement, and that she had acted "harshly" toward such defendants in order to "appear to be tough in theft cases."
Fang maintained that "Sherry Caloia has targeted these cases and basically is taking over oversight of these cases" to show precisely how tough she is.
The reason, according to Fang's motion, is that Caloia is being sued by the town of Marble over the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a former town clerk who once worked in Caloia's office while Caloia was Marble's contractual town attorney.
Caloia, according to Fang, has been "deeply affected" by publicity about the Marble case and has been overreacting in her prosecution of theft cases out of "embarrassment" about the Marble accusations.
Boyd, however, indicated there was insufficient supporting information provided by Fang to convince him that the motion should be granted.
Boyd also denied a motion by Fang to hold an "evidentiary hearing" on the issue, which would have involved the formal offering of evidence and testimony by witnesses.
Fang informed the judge that she might appeal his decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals, and possibly to the state supreme court.
Deputy District Attorney Anne Norrdin, who presented Caloia's response to Fang's motion at the Wednesday hearing, said she was not sure if the state's rules of trial procedure allowed for an appeal of this nature by a defendant.
The judge, following a brief review of the statute, agreed that the statute refers mainly to appeals filed by prosecutors unhappy with a judge's ruling in cases such as this. But, he added, there appeared to be nothing in the statute to preclude such an appeal from the defense, either.
At present, Muñoz-Morales is scheduled to undergo a four-day trial starting on March 3.