Judge appoints special prosecutor in Martin case | PostIndependent.com

Judge appoints special prosecutor in Martin case

Ryan Summerlin
John Martin

Judge James Boyd has unsealed proceedings in a complaint against Commissioner John Martin, and he has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the accusations that the commissioner embezzled public money.

In an order filed Sunday, Boyd rejected several defense arguments and appointed 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown as a special prosecutor to investigate the complaint filed by Garfield County Democrats during Martin’s successful campaign for re-election against Democrat John Acha.

“I have no problem with that at all,” Martin said Monday evening of the 5th DA’s appointment.

Martin had little else to say about the development.

“You know more about it than I do,” said the commissioner. “I’ll know about it when my attorney calls and tells me, but I’ll probably read about it in the newspaper before then.”

The Democrats accused Martin of felony embezzlement of public funds, stemming from inappropriately collected per diem advances and use of his county purchasing card during travel on county business.

A forensic audit in 2015 of Martin’s travel expenses at intergovernmental conferences concluded that he should pay the county back $1,800 for inappropriately using his purchasing card and collecting advances on trips where the county also covered some expenses. This audit covered several years of Martin’s travel for conferences.

The 20-year commissioner says he did nothing unlawful and that he is entitled to those advances because he also represented other intergovernmental organizations during these conferences in addition to Garfield County.

Because the Garfield County Board of Commissioners approves the 9th DA’s budget, the Democrats requested a special prosecutor, and then-DA Sherry Caloia echoed that request in October.

The documents unsealed Sunday said Martin’s defense argued that the DA didn’t have the authority to seek a special prosecutor given that there was no formal “case” against him.

“The statute about the office of the district attorney does not define the word ‘case,’ ” Boyd wrote in his order.

Although charges have not been filed, investigation is an inherent duty in prosecution, and the DA can request that another DA’s office be assigned “to assume investigative responsibility” in the case of a conflict of interests, wrote the judge.

Boyd concluded that the matter is in fact a “case.”

He also rejected a defense argument that the complaint wasn’t “worthy of investigation.”

“In circumstances like this case, judicial intervention in the district attorney’s choice to investigate or not would be an impermissible invasion of the power and responsibility of the district attorney,” Boyd wrote.

“It is beyond the authority of the court to preclude a district attorney from investigating a complaint about alleged criminal behavior — whether by investigating directly or, where the District Attorney determines she has a possible conflict, by delegating the investigation to another. It is beyond the province of the Court at this stage of proceedings to evaluate or make findings about the worthiness of an investigation.”

To keep the case sealed, Martin’s defense also argued that “investigatory records are ‘routinely’ not disclosed to the public until and unless charges are filed,” Boyd wrote.

But the judge found no grounds to continue keeping the record sealed.

Vice chair of the Garfield County Democrats, Andrew Quiat, who supplied Boyd’s order to the Post Independent, said the judge had carefully considered the separation of powers and had written an order to withstand an appeal.

There’s no reason to speculate about what will happen now, said Quiat. “The case will now be in the hands of another judicial district’s (DA) with no conflict of interest.”

Boyd’s order dated Sunday follows the Post Independent seeking comment from him last week for a story that appeared Monday on the status of the case. Boyd did not respond to those requests.

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