There was probable cause for charging the Aspen parents with distribution of cocaine to a minor, Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham maintained. But when Joseph Lipsey III, 56, and his wife Shira Lipsey, 44, appeared in the Pitkin County Courthouse Monday morning, Nottingham announced his intention to dismiss the charge.
Calling the investigation “somewhat stymied,” Nottingham did not feel that pursuing that most serious charge — which carries a minimum sentence of eight years in prison — would be successful in a preliminary hearing.
“We will file to dismiss in this coming week,” he said in court Monday morning.
Mostly, the change came down to a lack of substantive witness testimony, he added after the hearing, though he didn’t make any nefarious allegations as to why that’s the case.
“I think there’s a certain amount of… nobody wants to testify. ‘I’d just as soon not talk to the police if I can avoid it.’ ‘I’m tired of being in the middle of all of this in town,’” he said in describing would-be witnesses’ mentalities. “I don’t think it’s fear.”
Yale Galanter, the Lipsey family’s lead attorney, lauded Nottingham’s decision.
“He's really taken a good, hard look at this, and to his credit, he did the right thing this morning,” he said of Nottingham. “It was huge, it really was.”
That’s not to say there isn’t still a lot of work ahead for Galanter. His clients, including 19-year-old Joseph Lipsey IV, still face numerous felony and misdemeanor charges. Importantly, though, none of them carry mandatory minimum sentences, Galanter emphasized.
“I looked at this case, really, in part one and part two,” he said after the hearing, explaining that, with the recent dismissal, “part one” is behind the Lipseys. “Part two of the case, the charges really revolve around 'Hey, we may have let the kids party and … maybe we didn't supervise enough.' The whole complexion of the case is different and much more manageable. When you're defending somebody on an eight-year minimum, you're concentrating on that. I don't want to minimize the charges; it's just different.”
The remaining charges for the parents include three felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and three misdemeanor counts of serving alcohol to minors. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a Class 4 felony in Colorado and could carry a prison term between two and six years plus parole — but first-time offenders often receive probation sentences.
“You never know what you don't know,” Galanter said. “Now all of a sudden, you're looking at an offense where you could get probation.”
The younger Lipsey’s charges from the March arrests remain unchanged: a felony cocaine distribution charge, a felony MDMA distribution charge, felony contributing to the delinquency of a minor, four counts of possession of a controlled substance and several misdemeanors.
Those charges are in addition to two felony counts of vehicular assault still pending against Joseph Lipsey IV after he allegedly crashed his parents’ Tesla into Maroon Creek with four teenagers inside in November last year.
Still, the dropped cocaine distribution to a minor charge changes the entire context for the case, Galanter said — and that could result in an opportunity to reexamine the initial $100,000 bonds that each Lipsey posted in cash to be released from Pitkin County Jail in March.
“Remember, the $100,000 bond was based on the Lipseys being drug traffickers, and now they're not,” he said. “I just wanted to give the judge a heads up that we are going to be discussing the reduction of the bond conditions, which normally would occur when there's this severe of a reduction in charge.”
The case arose from parties at the Lipseys’ Aspen Highlands home, at which teenagers allegedly had access to alcohol and cocaine with the parents’ knowledge. Snapchat videos showing people using cocaine taken by a minor allegedly under the influence of the drug at one of these parties became a crux for the probable cause that led to the initial felony distribution to a minor charge.
Judge Chris Seldon approved Galanter’s request that the parents be able to appear via telephone at their next hearing, scheduled for Aug. 16. The younger Lipsey will appear again Aug. 5.