The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower-court decision denying attorney's fees to a former district attorney in the Third Judicial District who admitted to numerous ethical violations.
Francisco "Frank" Ruybalid IV of Trinidad served as DA the Third District, which covers Las Animas and Huerfano counties in southern Colorado, from 2008 through 2016.
Ruybalid, according to the Supreme Court decision posted Monday, "was accused of numerous ethical violations arising out of cases that he either prosecuted or supervised while he was the District Attorney for the Third Judicial District of Colorado. Ultimately, Ruybalid admitted to 26 violations in exchange for another 138 alleged violations being dismissed."
His law license was suspended for six months, although that was stayed pending completion of 23 months of probation that ended when his term of office expired in 2016. Ruybalid was assessed $23,000 in costs and said he incurred more than $200,000 in legal expenses.
That led to Monday's court decision. Ruybalid sued both Las Animas and Huerfano counties for his legal costs, arguing that a state law requires counties to reimburse the district attorney for “expenses necessarily incurred in the discharge of his official duties for the benefit of [the] county."
Wrong, said the Colorado Court of Appeals, and on Monday, the Supreme Court agreed.
Ruybalid's legal costs were related to his failure to perform his duties, the Supreme Court said, rather than his efforts to properly conduct his duties.
"We conclude that because Ruybalid’s ethical violations were at times committed recklessly or knowingly, his attorney’s fees and costs were not necessarily incurred in the discharge of his official duties," the Supreme Court wrote in its decision.
Because of Ruybalid's actions, 15 criminal cases were dismissed, the high court noted.
"In other words," the ruling said, Ruybalid’s conduct was so deficient that the court found that suppression of evidence or dismissal was the appropriate sanction."
That was "remarkable," the ruling added, given that "a trial court is required to impose the least severe sanctions that will assure compliance with discovery orders. ... Simply put, Ruybalid was sanctioned for failing [Supreme Court's emphasis] to perform his official duties in an extraordinarily high number of cases, and he stipulated that in many of these cases that he had done so recklessly or knowingly."
The cases dismissed as a result of Ruybalid's actions included one involving alleged second-degree murder, others dealing with drugs and theft, and at least one case of alleged sexual assault.
Ruybalid initially blamed case overload and insufficient staffing.
According to a 2015 story in Westword, the problems, which were uncovered in an audit, including "ignoring court orders and failing to turn over discovery to the defense in seven criminal prosecutions that were later voluntarily dismissed by Ruybalid or tossed by judges." Nine of the 15 cases involved inexperienced deputy district attorneys that Ruybalid failed to supervise.