Judge: Trinidad DA Frank Ruybalid Must Pay Own Legal Fees in Misconduct Case

Frank Ruybalid's journey as Trinidad's district attorney has been a rocky road, plagued by claims of mishandled evidence and ethics violations, a bungled drug sting that led to the arrests of innocent people, and dozens of dismissed criminal cases because of poor police work or inept prosecution. And things keep getting worse for the embattled DA, who just learned that he's not going to get reimbursed for $200,000 in legal costs he's spent defending himself in disciplinary proceedings by state court officials. 

As reported in the Pueblo Chieftain,  Ronald Crowder, a visiting senior judge in Las Animas County, ruled last week that county commissioners aren't obligated to pay Ruybalid's legal fees in his long-running battle with the Colorado Supreme Court's Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. Last year, Ruybalid pleaded guilty to thirteen violations of professional-conduct rules for attorneys; he 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. He then demanded that taxpayers foot his bill, but no such luck. 

"The intent of the legislature was not to reward unethical conduct by public officials who are required to have a law license," Crowder dryly observed. 

Although he stipulated to the violations, Ruybalid has always maintained that the problems in his office are largely a function of a skimpy budget that has made it difficult to attract and retain qualified attorneys in economically troubled southern Colorado. One of the candidates running to succeed Ruybalid this fall, former DA Jon Neil Barclay, dropped out of the race two months ago, saying that the office is so badly underfunded by state and county officials that "the safety of the citizens of this district is at peril.” That leaves only one contender for the office in the heavily Democratic district, former U.S. Attorney for Colorado Henry Solano.

At this point, it's still not clear whether Ruybalid will be allowed to finish his term at the end of this year. The monitoring reports of his casework have not been entirely favorable, marred by complaints of missed hearings and blown discovery deadlines; he recently faced a hearing before a disciplinary judge on whether his law license should be suspended for alleged probation violations. No ruling has yet been issued. 
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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