Joseph Lipsey III, 57, and his wife Shira Lipsey, 45, both pleaded not guilty in their cases in which they each face three felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors at an alleged party at their Aspen Highlands home in January last year.
Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is a class 4 felony in Colorado and could carry a prison term of between two and six years plus parole, but first-time offenders often receive probation sentences. The two were arrested in March last year and initially each faced a much more severe charge of felony distribution of cocaine — a charge that carries a mandatory minimum eight-year prison sentence; however, those charges were dropped in July for Shira Lipsey and August for Joseph Lipsey.
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham said in July that a lack of substantive witness testimony was the main reason behind the dismissal.
On Monday, Joseph Lipsey’s main attorney, Miami-based Yale Galanter, described the case as “witness intensive” and noted that, in the era of COVID-19, scheduling a trial that will likely have to be rescheduled is particularly tricky when so many subpoenas will be involved.
“We would be subpoenaing witnesses, and then in the likely event that everything gets moved, we have to do all that work again,” he said, adding that many of those witnesses are now college students scattered across the country. “I’m not really concerned about myself; I’m not concerned about Mr. and Mrs. Lipsey, but I am concerned that this is a very witness intensive case.”
Still, Nottingham pushed to get something on the court’s calendar despite the looming challenges, which he likened to “rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”
“I see an unfortunate end to these delays, and I know the court’s calendar is going to be a nightmare when all of that happens,” he said. “I would rather set the case for trial, hope for the best, and if and when we need to reschedule, do that.”
Ultimately, Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin did schedule a tentative two-week jury trial for the cases beginning Nov. 30, though the parties will have a status conference Oct. 5 in order to ensure that a second wave of the novel coronavirus doesn’t further stall court proceedings.
Of that time allotment, the first half alone is dedicated to jury selection, as Seldin, Galanter and Nottingham all agreed that jury selection for the upcoming trials will be the more time-consuming aspect of the proceedings.
“I think [that will be] the lengthiest part of this, because of all the pretrial publicity, is going to be the jury selection,” Galanter said, echoing both Seldin’s and Nottingham’s earlier statements on the matter.
That said, the defense did not request a change in venue for the trials, which is sometimes a defense tactic when a perception exists that finding an unbiased local jury would prove difficult.
Seldin was more optimistic about how long it would take to successfully select a jury compared with Galanter’s and Nottingham’s assessments, though.
“Having had an abundance of experience with these issues of juror access to information about the cases in Pitkin County by virtue of our two free local newspapers … jury selection ought to be in conclusion by five days,” he said.
As for the future trial actually coming to fruition, however, he remained cautious.
“Let’s set these for trial with that check-in at 45, 60 days. Unfortunately, I think we’re still going to be at a point where we’re making an educated guess even in November, but hopefully circumstances will prove me to be pessimistic,” he said.
Joseph Lipsey IV pleaded guilty to felony in Tesla crash
Earlier this month, Joseph Lipsey IV, 20, pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault and misdemeanor reckless endangerment resulting from a November 2018 crash, in which the younger Lipsey drove his parents’ Tesla into Maroon Creek with four teenagers inside.
He will spend the next two years on probation, as well as commit at least five hours a week toward community service until he completes the mandatory 250 total.
In addition to the charges related to the Tesla crash near T Lazy Ranch, Lipsey IV also pleaded to misdemeanor drug possession in a separate case pending against him alongside his parents from the same January alleged party. It was a significant reduction from the initial list of charges he faced in that case: 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.
If Lipsey IV completes his probation and community service without incident and without picking up any new charges, the felony vehicular assault will be expunged from his record.
Judge orders first prison sentence since COVID-19 outbreak
A man found guilty by a jury of felony check forgery, criminal impersonation and theft in February was sentenced to 18 months in the Colorado Department of Corrections in Pitkin County District Court Monday.
James Kansas, 47, was not found eligible for probation because of his considerable criminal history, Nottingham explained, who asked for three years in state prison as a sentence.
“In 1990 and 1991 out of California, he was placed on probation, which was revoked. DUI in 2007. In 2010, he was convicted of possession of a weapon by a previous offender. Additionally, he has a pending 2015 pending felony case: illegal discharge of a firearm and habitual criminal charges,” he said.
A Colorado statute specifying that anyone convicted of two felonies since 2010 maintains that those convictions render a defendant ineligible for probation — but enforcing that statute is at a district attorney’s discretion, noted defense attorney Heidi Troxell.
“[It’s] slightly bizarre, but we are here,” she said of the prosecution’s decision to not consider her client for probation despite the local probation department’s presentence investigation, or PSI, report finding Kansas a good candidate for that option.
“I think the PSI should be a very influential force on the court … it determines he was appropriate for probation,” Troxell said. “And regardless of that, they are continuing to pursue a Department of Corrections sentence even though probation is saying, even today, they would accept him on their caseload.”
The Department of Corrections, conversely, is not currently accepting new inmates because of public health concerns relating to the novel coronavirus, she continued as one basis for asking Seldin to at least stay any prison sentence until Sept. 7.
“Sentencing someone immediately to DOC in many ways is not meeting the purposes of sentencing,” she said.
That was new information to Seldin, who so far has not ordered a prison sentence since the shut-downs.
“This is actually the first DOC sentencing I’ve had to conduct since the tectonic changes that have come to the fore as a result of COVID-19. I wasn’t aware the DOC is not accepting new arrivals at this time, though it doesn’t surprise me.”
Additionally, Kansas has a trial scheduled in Garfield County for the illegal discharge case between now and Sept. 7, Troxell pointed out.
“Being out of custody will allow him to participate in his defense,” she said.
Seldin, after sentencing Kansas to serve concurrent 18-month terms in both state prison and Pitkin County Jail, did grant the requested stay until Sept. 8, noting that Sept. 7 is Labor Day.
“This was not the crime of the century,” he said. “I agree with both sides, [and] we have a lengthy criminal history on the one hand.”
In September 2018, Kansas sent an invoice falsely represented as being from a Glenwood Springs air conditioning company at which Kansas was a former employee. At the time, there was already an active misdemeanor warrant for Kansas “because of a previous incident” the invoice recipient had with Kansas, contesting $1,500, according to an arrest affidavit. As Kansas’ name was also attached to the newer, $4,700 invoice, the man did not pay it — though he did alert the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Woman with two DUIs in a week gets probation
Leslee Francis, who received her fifth and sixth DUI within four days of each other last July after failing to complete Pitkin County Recovery Court orders, will be on supervised probation and must comply with Garfield County Recovery Court requirements in order to maintain a four-year deferred judgment and sentence.
Seldin struggled to accept the plea deal, calling Francis a “menace.”
“I do know Ms. Francis, and Ms. Francis is a nice person,” he said. “I think this case is a vivid example of when someone is, when sober, in all respects a nice person can nevertheless when in the grips of an addiction can be an absolute menace to society. I cannot conclude that Ms. Franics has not demonstrated precisely that.”
He said that while he would consider Francis’ actions worthy of a DOC sentence, he did not wish to undermine the district attorney’s authority on case management -- and, he continued, a prison sentence during a pandemic seemed almost moot.
“The parties have stipulated to not have a DOC sentence, and the court had to think long and hard about whether it was going to reflect that stipulation for the reasons I just mentioned; however, in this sense, Ms. Francis is a beneficiary of the strange times we find ourselves in,” he said.