The former Basalt High School choir director who was arrested in September surrounding allegations of a sexually inappropriate relationship with a student appeared in court Friday for her scheduled preliminary hearing, but instead used that time to waive said hearing through her attorney.
“We are set today for a preliminary hearing, although I understand perhaps we are doing something different,” 9th Judicial District Chief Judge James Boyd said in the Garfield County courtroom.
Instead, defense attorney Michael Fox, of Kalamaya Goscha, told the court that after “meaningful conversation” with the district attorney, he and his client — Brittany von Stein, 26 — decided on a different course.
“We have already compiled some mitigation materials to provide to the district attorney, and we’re still in discussions,” Fox said, requesting a March 3 status conference. “We’d set it for a disposition hearing, or however the court wants to name it.”
In criminal court proceedings, mitigating factors may be presented by the defense in an effort to reduce charges in a plea agreement or net a lesser sentence. Strategically, mitigation materials may be used to negotiate concessions from the prosecution, as well, and Fox said it’s too soon to say whether or not his client would be accepting a plea deal or taking the case to trial.
That will remain to be seen at the scheduled March 3 court date at 8:15 a.m., when both Fox and chief prosecutor Zac Parsons agreed that the case would move forward in a meaningful way.
“I’m satisfied with our position where March 3, either something substantive will happen or we’ll be in a spot where something can happen very quickly,” Parsons said in court.
In this case, “something substantive” would likely either mean von Stein accepting and a plea deal and thus entering a guilty plea or pleas or setting the case for trial. Since her arrest, the case has been sealed by a judge’s order; not even future court dates are currently made available to the public except when scheduled in the courtroom. While an arrest affidavit obtained by the Aspen Daily News before the case was sealed outlined three felony charges of sexual assault on a child by someone in a position of trust, whether or not those are still the charges von Stein faces is unknown. Per Colorado statute, anyone in a position of trust, such as an educator, who has alleged sexual contact with someone older than 15 years old but younger than 18 would face a class 4 felony charge. Unless, that is, a pattern — more than two instances — can be proved, in which case the charge is elevated to a class 3 felony.
The allegations against von Stein sent shock waves through the Basalt community, as she had earned statewide recognition for her accomplishments as a young music teacher. In 2018, the Colorado Music Educators Association awarded von Stein its annual Outstanding Young Music Educator Award, which honors “educators who are in their first five years of teaching and have shown significant proficiency in the classroom and respect in their school community. This award recognizes notable commitment to the art of teaching as well as a demonstrated ability to achieve excellence,” according to the CMEA website.
Von Stein had been hired to begin the 2019-20 school year as the full-time Basalt High School choir director — she’d been splitting her time between middle school and high school programs since 2015. Instead, BHS choir students started their year with a substitute teacher, as von Stein had been placed on leave pending the police investigation that ultimately led to her arrest and charges.