Judge lets convictions stand despite unfinished transcripts
CENTENNIAL – A judge has ruled that convictions of 10 people for crimes including sexual assault and attempted murder will stand, even though transcripts from hearings and trials several years ago still have not been completed by a court reporter who said breast cancer interfered with her work.Victims in some of the cases expressed relief Wednesday at the ruling by former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Anthony Vollack. The judge said defendants have a right to a speedy trial but are not guaranteed a speedy appeal.Transcripts in eight cases are either complete or complete enough to allow the Colorado Court of Appeals to consider the cases, Vollack said in his ruling late Tuesday. Transcripts in the other two cases – a total of about 1,300 pages – should be complete within a year, he said.Unless critical parts of the transcripts are missing that would keep the appeals court from considering reasons to reverse the convictions, “this court cannot find that a hardship has been created or that the defendants’ appeal has been prejudiced,” said Vollack.Vollack could have ordered new trials in any of the cases.All the defendants were convicted by Arapahoe County District Court juries from 1999 to 2002. Defense attorneys appealed over various issues, and the Colorado Court of Appeals in September 2003 sent the cases back to the district court because transcripts were missing or incomplete.Initially, former court reporter Valerie Barnes, who now is a clerk in federal court in Denver, helped other court workers complete the transcripts, but she told officials in August 2004 that she would no longer cooperate. She said she had no legal obligation to finish the work, but she also said her treatment for breast cancer, including a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, affected her memory and her ability to do the work.Other court reporters had trouble working with her notes because she used an unusual form of shorthand, District Attorney Carol Chambers said.In November 2004, Vollack found Barnes in contempt for refusing to help finish the transcripts. He ordered a jail sentence but put the order on hold while she appealed to the Court of Appeals.That court was expected to rule on her appeal Thursday.Barnes’ attorney, David Lane, said he thought the appeals court would rule in Barnes’ favor.”If the work is being done without Valerie Barnes, it doesn’t appear to be an absolute necessity they need her, so why should she be held in contempt?” he said.Chambers and victims in some of the cases said Wednesday they hoped Barnes would help complete the work to help them avoid the pain of new trials.”Until she gets it done, we’ll feel victimized over and over again,” said Monica Macias, 25. Clevia Firethunder, 31, was convicted of reckless manslaughter in the stabbing death of Macias’ father and is serving five years in prison.Chambers said any of the convictions could eventually be overturned, but she was encouraged that the appeals would be based on the merits of the cases, rather than on problems with the transcripts.Chambers said if Barnes helps, the remaining transcripts could be finished within weeks, rather than months. She said other court reporters were “struggling” to transcribe Barnes’ notes.”Victims should simply not be put through this,” Chambers said. “It is so traumatic to be a victim of sexual assault, to be a victim of any kind of crime. It’s difficult to go to trials, difficult to go through appeals, and to add all this on top of it is unbearable.”Chambers said as a breast cancer survivor, she is sympathetic to Barnes’ health issues, but said Barnes continued working as a federal court clerk through much of her cancer treatment, and that Vollack rejected Barnes’ reasons for refusing to finish the transcripts when he found her in contempt.A defense attorney representing several of the defendants did not return a call.Vollack was assigned to the case by the chief judge of the 18th Judicial District. —On the Net:State Courts: http://www.courts.state.co.us
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