Schmuck of the Week

Frank Ruybalid: Is there anything worse than a schmucky DA?

If the allegations concerning Frank Ruybalid, district attorney of Huerfano and Las Animas counties, hold water -- and the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel has a large tub of claims that Ruybalid mishandled at least sixteen criminal cases, failing to obey court orders or disclose evidence and then dismissing cases when a stink was raised -- then the tougher question is whether all these judicial snafus are a matter of ineptitude or something even worse. Either way, the idea of a DA repeatedly bungling serious criminal cases is megaschmuck territory.

As the Pueblo Chieftain reported back in September, the OARC filed a hefty complaint against Ruybalid last summer, accusing him of no less than 29 separate instances of misconduct. Much of the impetus for the action seems to have originated with four different judges who found the DA's conduct beyond the pale (and at times worthy of sanctions) in numerous cases, including one murder case that ended up being dismissed.

Ruybalid, who was elected in 2008, denies intentionally violating any rules. In a response almost as long as the complaint, he blames a lot of his problems on a heavy caseload and not being able to hire and retain experienced attorneys in his district, which includes the towns of Walsenburg and Trinidad.

Yet DAs in other rural areas of the state seem to get by without judges and defense attorneys crying for their scalps. Ruybalid faces suspension and possible disbarment when the OARC case goes to trial next spring. Maybe he'll prove more able in his own defense than he's been as the people's prosecutor, but right now he's accused of schmuckiness in the first degree. More from our Schmuck of the Week archives: Roland Herrera's schmucky decision to impersonate a police officer -- to a cop.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

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