Joseph Lipsey III appeared by telephone for a scheduled arraignment in Pitkin County District Court Monday — but the focus of the defense when arguing for yet another continuance was on his 19-year-old son’s completely separate case from last November, when he crashed the elder Lipsey’s Tesla X with four other teenagers inside.
That’s not how the request for a continuance started, however. At first, defense attorney Richard Cummins suggested rescheduling the matter — namely, the felony charges that arose after a teenager allegedly shared a Snapchat video involving cocaine at the Lipseys’ home — until after the holidays.
“I think I’d simply remind the court that this has been a complicated case with a lot of discovery, a lot of witnesses. And actually, the delays have allowed us to move forward productively,” he said. “Finally, with multiple attorneys, you’ve got different travel schedules with the holidays, so we ask the court to do one final continuance of the arraignment till right after the first of the year.”
But in his objection, Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham immediately brought up the younger Lipsey’s felony vehicular assault charges following the Tesla crash in Maroon Creek.
“There are victims in that case. Surprisingly, one is in the courtroom today, and it’s my understanding she would object,” he said, adding that two other victims, per their counsel, do not object to pushing the arraignment further out on the court’s calendar. “My suggestion to them was … the more quickly the case moves forward, the more quickly we get to a plea.”
It seemed like an odd response, given that the case being heard was for Lipsey III, 56, who still faces three felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after the most serious charge of distribution of cocaine to a minor was dropped last month. If convicted on that charge, minimum mandatory sentencing would have required at least an eight-year prison term. Presently, in addition to the felony charges, Lipsey III still also faces three misdemeanors of serving alcohol to a minor. His wife Shira Lipsey, 44, faces the same charges.
The reason for Nottingham’s mentioning the victims from the car accident became clearer — if only somewhat — when Yale Galanter, the Lipsey family’s lead attorney, chimed in.
“There are some other issues that have come up that have enabled me to work on a global settlement, both in terms of the criminal case … and the insurance companies on the civil side,” he said, alluding to the younger Lipsey’s other case, in which he faces two vehicular assault charges, both class 5 felonies, and two careless driving misdemeanors.
Beyond saying that his involvement with the “very big issue” that came up only started between seven and 10 days ago and that he hopes for a global settlement out of it, Galanter was guarded in what he’d allow.
“I can’t go into depth in open court, but the issues are extremely significant, and I can tell you as an officer of the court that if I do have the time, I believe the chance of an overall settlement on all parts of the case is increased greatly,” he said.
It wasn’t obvious to Judge Seldin how a civil matter — no official civil suit has been filed and Galanter is not working in any official capacity on anything beyond the criminal cases which he formally represents — in the aftermath of a car crash is directly related to the criminal cases involving cocaine, and he said as much in court.
“Let me just be clear: We have three cases involving three separate defendants, which the court can understand as being related to each other,” he said. “And then there’s another case that predates the filings of those cases, and if I’m understanding this correctly, it’s actually that first filed case that gives rise to the request to continue all the cases.”
“Yes,” Galanter confirmed.
“I’m trying to reconcile how the auto accident case relates to the other three and why the other three should be delayed,” Seldin continued. “I can understand what you’re telling me — if there's a civil case and a criminal case arising from the same incident, that I get.”
At that, Galanter became more animated — though his requests to speak privately in the judge’s chambers and subsequently to seal the courtroom from public scrutiny were denied.
“Imagine that a civil issue has come up because of the facts in the criminal case that would potentially lessen the possible judgments ... in the auto accident. And further assume that the lead lawyer for the family may have the ability to fix it globally,” he said. “As you know, with the various dismissals that we’ve already had, we are moving forward on the criminal case. We’re really close … we are discussing palatable negotiate pleas. But this one issue came up, and I said to Mr. Nottingham, ‘I need to take a shot at trying to fix this on the civil side.’”
When trying to decipher Galanter’s admittedly intentionally cryptic messaging, Seldin asked if the issue involves Rule 35, which in civil cases allows discovery through physical and mental health examinations. Such examinations could pertain to either the victim or the defendant in civil cases.
“The event I was able to postpone is taking place Jan. 6. It’s actually an examination on —” Galanter started.
“On Rule 35,” Seldin finished. “And that’s the soonest it can be done, the [Independent Medical Examination]?”
“They wanted it earlier. They wanted it, like, now. The issue came up, and I said no,” Galanter answered without clarifying who “they” are.
Nottingham confirmed that there has “been discussion” of all of the criminal cases involving the Lipsey family — including the youngest Lipsey’s vehicular charges — being considered together, though he reiterated later that he’d objected to any continuance on the grounds Galanter suggested. When reached for comment, Galanter did not offer one on the day’s proceedings.
Still, Seldin granted a continuance for all of the Lipsey cases until Nov. 18.
“I’m still not sure I completely understand how all of these pieces move together,” the judge said. “I’ll continue the arraignment to November … then we’ll see either if the circumstances have changed, because sometimes they do in litigation, or if the district attorney’s position has changed on [grouping the cases].”
Galanter assured Seldin he would “not disappoint.”