Joseph Lipsey IV pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all charges, including two felony counts of vehicular assault, that came in the aftermath of his allegedly crashing his parents’ Tesla into Maroon Creek in November 2018.
The plea, made through Lipsey’s defense attorney, came reluctantly.
A four-person team of attorneys appeared in Pitkin County District Court Tuesday, but their respective clients — Joseph Lipsey III, Shira Lipsey and Joseph Lipsey IV — did not, at least not in person. Rather, all three family members appeared by phone.
That became a sticking point for the younger Lipsey, 19. When he last appeared in court in January, defense counsel assured the court that if granted one more continuance in more than a year of continuances, there would either be a disposition or a plea entered to move the case forward.
But when Lipsey did not appear in person Tuesday, it caught defense attorney Greg Greer off guard, he said, and he used his client’s absence as reason for his argument that no plea be entered.
“I have a duty to ensure my client understands all implications when he enters a plea of guilty or not guilty, and there are some implications here. My client’s not present today, and with all the players and moving parts in this case — I apologize to the court — but I was unaware of that until right before court,” Greer said, adding that “my client takes this seriously.”
Still, Greer cited state statute that mandates a defendant facing a felony charge, as is the case with Lipsey, be present for an arraignment, but with a caveat.
“Except that the court, for good cause shown, may accept a plea of not guilty made by an attorney representing the defendant without requiring the defendant to be personally present,” according to the statute.
“I am the one requesting that we set this over to have him present,” Greer said, referring to his own status as the attorney in the case.
But ultimately, Judge Chris Seldin interpreted that exception differently and instead of granting another continuance for the case, gave Greer an opportunity to consult with Lipsey via telephone before then entering the not guilty plea.
“I think the good cause is we agreed to this one final time for today; I do remember getting this case set for trial,” Seldin said. “It’s not clear to me that I granted Mr. Lipsey IV to appear by phone today, so any fault for his failure to appear rests with him, rather than the people under those circumstances.”
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham confirmed his wish — and that of the victims involved in the case — that the plea be entered Tuesday.
“I have spoken to various victims at various times — they certainly would like this case to be moving forward, to put it lightly,” he said.
Nottingham also acknowledged that because the case has received sustained press coverage, selecting an unbiased jury not already familiar with the case will likely prove difficult.
“In this case, I think jury selection may take three days,” he said.
As such, all parties agreed that a seven-day trial would likely be necessary. That trial is set to begin July 13.