Trinidad DA Frank Ruybalid Wants Public to Pay for His Ethics Blunders
In January, Frank Ruybalid, the embattled top prosecutor for Colorado's Third Judicial District, resolved a long-running state ethics investigation by pleading guilty to thirteen violations of professional conduct rules for attorneys, essentially admitting that he'd mishandled the prosecution of several criminal cases that ended up being dismissed. Ruybalid was put on 23 months of probation, during which his cases will be monitored by a former judge, and was tagged for $23,000 in court costs. In exchange, Ruybalid got to keep his law license, and the Colorado Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel agreed to drop several other charges against him.
Now District Attorney Ruybalid wants the people of Las Animas and Huerfano counties to pay for his mistakes. According to a report in the southern Colorado newspaper The Signature (not yet online), Ruybalid's attorney has sent a letter to the county commissioners of his district, demanding reimbursement of just under $200,000 in legal costs he's incurred defending himself in the OARC action. The article quotes the Huerfano County administrator as advising his board, "I recommend we don't pay unless forced by the courts."
But the $200K bill is only one of several indignities Ruybalid has inflicted on the financially strapped communities he serves. He's also been heavily criticized for his supervisory role in a 2013 drug-sting investigation that resulted in the arrests of forty people — a badly botched operation involving fake drugs, sloppy police work and unreliable informants that resulted in all forty cases being dismissed, as detailed in my November feature "The Snitch Who Stole Christmas." The OARC investigation didn't include the 2013 cases, but the City of Trinidad is now being sued by the ACLU of Colorado, which represents two of the falsely accused suspects. While the suit focuses primarily on the actions of two police detectives, whom the ACLU accuses of fabricating and misrepresenting evidence, Ruybalid also had a role in approving arrest warrants and getting charges against the informants dismissed.
Ruybalid's probation lasts until the end of his term as district attorney. But case management continues to be an issue. He recently faced contempt charges because no one from his office showed up for three separate criminal cases one day last December; all three of the defendants walked. The contempt charges were dismissed after Ruybalid agreed to make a public apology for the fiasco.