Deputy DA disqualified in Pressler embezzlement case; Caloia angered
Judge Denise Lynch has disqualified Deputy District Attorney Jason Slothouber from serving as the prosecutor in the Erin Pressler embezzlement case despite District Attorney Sherry Caloia’s objections.
The move stems from an interview Slothouber conducted in January with Pressler’s former boss, Jim Pribil, during which Pribil reportedly indicated that some charges originally believed illegitimate may have been real business expenses. Without another interviewer present or recording of the interview, the Public Defender’s Office holds that Slothouber may be a potential witness in the case. Both sides presented their arguments to Judge Lynch on April 3, and on Tuesday, she granted a request to disqualify Slothouber but denied a motion to disqualify the 9th District Attorney’s Office as a whole.
However, with Assistant District Attorney Scott Turner leaving for a new job in the Colorado Attorney General’s office, the move leaves Caloia’s office without an attorney prepared for the much-delayed trial, which is scheduled to begin next week.
Caloia filed a motion to reconsider Slothouber’s disqualification, and, on Wednesday, appeared in court to make her case.
“Mr. Slothouber did nothing wrong, and to issue such a sanction, which will destroy this whole case, is really not what the law calls for,” she told Lynch.
“There’s nothing in the law and there’s nothing in the rules that say you must have another person there when you talk to the witness,” she added. “This is all blown quite out of proportion.”
Caloia urged Lynch not to set a precedent.
“This will be a pervasive and continuing problem if the court continues with its order,” she said. “They are not going to tell me how to run my office.
“This is a ruse that they use to get what they want, which is a dismissal of the case on speedy-trial grounds,” she added. “They do it to Jason because Jason’s a damn good trial lawyer, and they know it.”
“Please refrain from swearing in the courtroom,” Lynch responded.
Deputy Public Defender Sara Steele viewed Caloia’s argument as a rehash of the previous hearing.
“Absolutely nothing has changed, and so it is completely inappropriate to ask the court to reconsider its ruling on this issue,” she said. “The fact that Mr. Slothouber is now the only attorney in the DA’s office who has prepared this to trial is irrelevant. The fact that Mr. Turner is leaving the DA’s office … is a personnel issue that has absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Pressler’s constitutional rights.”
Slothouber, Steele said, could have avoided the issue by recording the interview or having an investigator present.
“It is not too much to ask. This is not going to create some sort of precedent,” she asserted. “The bottom line is that Ms. Pressler cannot get a fair trial in this case if [Slothouber] is allowed to remain as the district attorney prosecutor.”
Lynch declined to rule immediately and instead issued a written order Thursday morning upholding her previous decision.
“There is a compelling need for this testimony,” she wrote. “The People have not persuaded this Court that it erred in its initial ruling.”
The District Attorney’s Office has until the end of the day Friday to appeal the decision.
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