Medical marijuana persecution vs. improper law practice: CO Supreme Court slaps Kurt Riggin

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

A fresh development in the bizarre case of Kurt Riggin, a self-proclaimed tribal chief and attorney accused of the improper practice of law plus a string of charges related to his defense of a medical marijuana patient in Park County. A judge has recommended that Riggin's claim of sovereignty based on his work with Native American tribes be ignored. But he's only begun to fight.

Here's the back story, as originally seen in our June 10 post about the charges against Riggin.

Last October, Riggin visited a medical marijuana patient in Park County along with MMJ advocate Timothy Tipton. According to Tipton, the Park County Sheriff's Office had been harassing the man, who reportedly suffers from pancreatic cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder: So the pair visited the office to file what Riggin refers to as an "informal administrative complaint" against the officer in question.

Trouble is, Riggin isn't allowed to practice law in Colorado, despite him being a tribal attorney who's worked with assorted Native American tribes. Indeed, back in 2008, he'd been found guilty in absentia of illegally practicing law in Colorado; click here to read the judgment against him, which includes a $1,000 fine he's never paid.

In Park County, Riggin insists he was merely acting as an advocate for the patient, much as Tipton had done. Nonetheless, he has been charged with attempting to influence a public servant and criminal impersonation. He's got a June 28 court date in Park County related to these charges.

In December, Riggin says he received a letter from the office of attorney Kim Ikeler about the Park County case -- and he was subsequently told to attend a May 14 hearing before Supreme Court disciplinary judge William Lucero at which Ikeler represented the State of Colorado.

Neither Ikeler nor Supreme Court Regulation Counsel John Gleason will comment on the specifics of the case. But the so-called Report of Hearing Master regarding Riggin, submitted under the signature of presiding judge William Lucero, junks Riggin's arguments.

Lucero writes: "Respondent concedes he is not licensed to practice law in any other state or territory of the United States, but he points to a farrago of treaties and federal legislation to argue the State of Colorado has no jurisdiction to regulate his activities in Colorado courts by virtue of his position as an officer of the sovereign Kikiallus Nation. He also contends his licensure in tribal courts suffices to grant him either 'out-of-state attorney' status... or reciprocity of admission through the Full Faith and Credit Clause."

However, Lucero goes on, "Even though Respondent claims membership in the Kikiallus Nation, the events giving rise to the Supreme Court's jurisdiction occurred outside the bounds of that tribe's authority and jurisdiction. Indeed, the Supreme Court, as part of its 'inherent and plenary powers, has exclusive jurisdiction over attorneys and the authority to regulate, govern, and supervise the practice of law in Colorado to protect the public.' The exercise of these powers neither infringes on a treaty nor conflicts with a federal statute."

After rejecting the Full Faith and Credit Clause theory, too, Lucero recommends that the Supreme Court reject the respondent's mandatory judicial notice -- the formal name for Riggin's defense strategy.

Riggin wasn't shocked by this decision. "It was nothing I didn't expect," he says. "I don't know why I was asking the state to fix its own criminal activities. You can't say to a felon, 'Okay, you need to reform yourself.' I don't think that's going to happen."

His next step? He plans to move this case, as well as the separate Park County complaint and a third case from Washington, to federal district court. There, he hopes, his points will be heard by "a magistrate who understands that Indians are sovereign, and who understands sovereign immunity. Apparently, judges at the Colorado Supreme Court don't understand that."

He's shooting to accomplish this legal maneuver before the end of August, when his next Park County hearing is scheduled. In the meantime, he issues this warning: "If you're a lawyer in California and you tell a cop in Colorado that you're an attorney, better watch out -- because they'll arrest you for that."

Then he mutters, "Not too bright, these guys."

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.