The judge overseeing the sexual assault cases against a teen and a 20-year-old acknowledged that documents detailing the allegations should not have been made public last week.
The arrest warrants for the 17-year-old Aspen resident and Keegan Callahan of Woody Creek, and an application for a search warrant, contain graphic details that led authorities to charge the defendants with 13 felonies each. Both Aspen newspapers published stories about the documents, which show police believe there are at least three alleged victims.
But after the district attorney’s office on Nov. 13 filed a notice saying it no longer had cause to keep the warrants sealed, Callahan’s attorney, Abraham Hutt of Denver, objected, writing that making them public would jeopardize his client’s right to a fair trial.
That should have triggered a hearing or a ruling by Judge Chris Seldin of Pitkin County District Court about his sealing order. The judge, during a Nov. 14 hearing, discussed the disclosure with Hutt and deputy district attorney Don Nottingham, and said the cases remain sealed.
It’s unclear what, if any, ramifications may arise because of the documents’ release. Hutt, who did not return a message seeking comment on the disclosure, may seek a change of venue should his client’s two cases go to trial, but defense attorneys sometimes try to relocate trials even without an inadvertent violation of a court’s sealing order.
At the Nov. 14 hearing, Judge Seldin called the development regrettable.
“The documents were released in error,” he said, according to a transcript. “There was a request from Mr. Hutt to essentially keep the seal in place, notwithstanding the district attorney’s request to lift the seal, and there was a request for a hearing from Mr. Hutt to address that issue, and I have not ruled on the issue and I have not lifted the seal.
“So the press obtained the documents prematurely at a minimum.”
Hutt said he first learned about the disclosure as he headed toward the hearing, and he asked the judge how it had happened.
“The Court has made a mistake, and ultimately, the responsibility for that mistake is mine, which I accept, and the parties have their rights … to pursue whatever relief they wish to pursue in connection with the mistake in release of the documents,” Judge Seldin said.
Hutt asked if the judge had considered a possible legal remedy, and Judge Seldin said he would consider “whatever relief the parties wish to request” in connection with the error. But he also said his initial order in early October sealing the cases would have been lifted at some point.
“I don’t think it’s a great mystery to anyone that the Court has viewed the sealing order with skepticism and has viewed it as something that should be in place for a limited time,” the judge said. “That was clear on the face of the order that I entered when I granted the seal.”
Judge Seldin continued that now that the court order has been “essentially violated by the Court itself, I think the defense has a right to advance whatever arguments it wishes to advance, and then the Court is just going to have to consider those arguments on their merits …”
Hutt tried to get the judge to discuss what led to the documents’ release, but he said that was immaterial.
“The mechanism by which [they were] released, it’s not clear to me that that’s of great relevance to this case,” Judge Seldin said. “It’s the consequence of the release that is of relevance, it seems to me.”
Nottingham, who declined comment on the development, said in court that he takes no position on the sealing of the cases. But he said he would likely respond to whatever legal remedy Hutt may seek.
The 17-year-old, who is charged as an adult, is not being named because his attorney is seeking to transfer his cases to juvenile court. He is next due in court on Dec. 3. His preliminary hearing, in which Judge Seldin will rule on whether there is enough evidence for a trial, is scheduled for Jan. 10. Callahan’s preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 8. Both remain in custody on $100,000 cash-only bonds.