Colorado judge sanctions DA Linda Stanley over discovery violations

A Fremont County District Court judge last week threw out a first-degree murder charge to punish prosecutors for failing to turn over information to defense attorneys — part of what the judge said is a pattern of widespread discovery violations by 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley and her staff.

In a scathing 21-page order, Judge Kaitlin Turner listed 20 cases over the last two years in which prosecutors in Stanley’s office have failed to turn over discovery information to defense attorneys as required by law.

The judge then found a similar violation had occurred in the murder case before her and ordered that the first-degree murder charge against defendant Joseph Tippet be reduced to a second-degree murder charge as a sanction for prosecutors’ misconduct.

“This pattern (of discovery violations) has persisted despite the imposition of many and varied sanctions against the District Attorney and even despite specific warnings about the apparent lack of oversight and supervision in the District Attorney’s discovery process,” the judge wrote in the order. “The District Attorney’s pattern of neglect reveals an urgent and serious need for the District Attorney to modify its discovery practices.”

The cases outlined in the order included homicides, assaults, sexual assaults, kidnapping and other serious charges. In one case, prosecutors turned over 2,500 pages of discovery to defense attorneys on the day of the preliminary hearing. In another case, prosecutors didn’t tell defense attorneys about body-worn camera footage until four days before a scheduled jury trial, according to the order. In a felony menacing case, prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence for four months, only turning it over six days before trial, the judge wrote.

In the Tippet murder case, prosecutors said the discovery violations were due to errors by support staff, changes in the prosecutors assigned to the case and poor communication with law enforcement agencies. The judge found high staff turnover and a lack of training and oversight contributed to the failures.

The district attorney’s office has been sanctioned in several cases, but the problems persisted, according to the order.

“Previously imposed sanctions have not proven effective in spurring the District Attorney to remedy its pattern of neglect,” the judge wrote.

Stanley did not return a request for comment Monday. She was elected in 2020 and took office in 2021 as the top prosecutor in the 11th Judicial District, which includes Chaffee, Custer, Fremont and Park counties.

The judicial sanction comes as Stanley is already under investigation by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, which investigates allegations of professional misconduct by attorneys. Jessica Yates, who heads the agency, confirmed Monday that the office is investigating Stanley for multiple complaints.

“I can confirm only that we have a single investigation regarding attorney Linda Stanley that comprises the various complaints that we have deemed appropriate for investigation,” she said in an email, declining to comment further.

One of the complaints against Stanley was brought to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel on March 29 by Iris Eytan, the defense attorney who represented Barry Morphew, the Chaffee County man accused of murdering his wife.

Eytan asked the office to investigate Stanley and six other prosecutors who worked the high-profile murder case, she said Monday. Yates would neither confirm nor deny that the office was investigating those six additional attorneys.

Morphew was charged in 2021 with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Suzanne Morphew, who was reported missing from the family’s home on May 10, 2020. But prosecutors dropped all charges against Morphew last year after a judge sanctioned the district attorney’s office for discovery violations, at the time calling prosecutors’ behavior “negligent, bordering on reckless.”

Eytan declined to discuss the substance of her complaint Monday, aside from saying it was a lengthy filing. But she said she plans to discuss the allegations in more detail at a news conference next week.

“We all know the judicial system isn’t perfect, no one said it was,” Eytan said. “But we expect prosecutors to play fair. And they’re not.”

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