Costilla County District Court No. 15CV30008. Honorable
Martin A. Gonzales, Judge.
Halpern, LLC, Alexander Halpern, Boulder, Colorado, for
and Earnest, LLC, W. Stuart Stuller, Kristin C. Edgar,
Boulder, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee.
by JUDGE FURMAN. Richman, J., concurs. Hawthorne, J.,
[¶1] Augustine Roy Esquibel appeals the
district court's order denying his motion for a
preliminary injunction, which sought to enjoin the Board of
Education Centennial School District R-1 (Board) from
declaring his school district director seat vacant after he
pleaded guilty to felony drug possession under a deferred
sentencing agreement. Because we conclude that a board member
who pleads guilty to a felony under a deferred sentencing
agreement has been " found guilty of a felony"
within the meaning of the director vacancy statute, §
22-31-129(1)(e), C.R.S. 2015, we affirm the district
The Vacancy on the Board
[¶2] Esquibel was elected as a director to
the Board in 2011. While he was still serving as a director,
he entered a plea of guilty to resisting arrest and felony
cocaine possession. Esquibel entered his plea under a
deferred sentencing agreement with the district attorney,
which resulted in his judgment and sentence being deferred
for a period of twelve months. See §
18-1.3-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 2015 (" In any case in which
the defendant has entered a plea of guilty, the court
accepting the plea has the power . . . to continue the case
for the purpose of entering judgment and sentence . . . for a
period not to exceed four years." ). When entering the
plea, Esquibel acknowledged, " If I have entered into a
Stipulation of Deferred Judgment and Sentence, and I have not
yet completed the terms of that agreement, my guilty plea may
be used against me in any future proceeding."
[¶3] Approximately two weeks after Esquibel
pleaded guilty, the Board voted on a resolution and declared
his seat vacant. This resolution was based on the director
vacancy statute, which provides that " [a] school
director office shall be deemed to be vacant upon the
occurrence of any one of the following events prior to the
expiration of the term of office: . . . [i]f the person who
was duly elected or appointed is found guilty of a
felony." § 22-31-129(1)(e).
[¶4] Esquibel then brought this action in
district court seeking, among other relief, a preliminary
injunction. Esquibel's motion for a preliminary
injunction asserted he had a reasonable likelihood of success
on the merits. This motion was premised on claims that he
would be " found guilty of a felony" only if and
when he failed to complete the mandatory terms of the
deferred sentencing agreement, and that he was compliant with
the terms of the agreement. The district court disagreed,
ruling that Esquibel did not have a reasonable likelihood of
prevailing on the merits. Esquibel challenges the district
" Found Guilty of a Felony"
[¶5] A district court's ruling on a
motion for a preliminary injunction is reviewed with
deference and will not be overturned unless it is manifestly
unreasonable, arbitrary, or unfair. Evans v. Romer,
854 P.2d 1270, 1274 (Colo. 1993). But, if the issue on appeal
concerns only legal, rather than factual, questions, a
district court's preliminary injunction ruling is subject
to independent review. Friends of Denver Parks, Inc. v.
City & Cnty. of Denver, 2013 COA 177, ¶ 38 (citing
Evans, 854 P.2d at 1274).
[¶6] The issue here only concerns a legal
question -- the meaning of the term " found guilty of a
felony" in the director vacancy statute. §
22-31-129(1)(e). To address this question, we are guided by
common rules of statutory interpretation.
[¶7] When interpreting a statute, our
primary task is to determine and give effect to the intent of
the legislature. McKinley v. City of Glenwood
Springs, 2015 COA 126, ¶ 5. To discern legislative
intent, we look first to the statutory language, giving words
and phrases their plain and ordinary meanings.
Swieckowski by Swieckowski v. City of Fort Collins,
934 P.2d 1380, 1384-85 (Colo. 1997). When reviewing statutory
language, we assume the legislature " understands the
legal import of the words it uses and does not use language
idly, but rather intends that meaning should be given to each
word." McKinley, ¶ 5 (quoting Young v.
Brighton Sch. Dist. 27J, 2014 CO 32, ¶ 25, 325 P.3d
571). And, we read statutes as a whole, giving "
consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all its
parts." People v. Summers, 208 P.3d 251, 254
(Colo. 2009) (citation omitted).
[¶8] We must determine whether Esquibel was
" found guilty of a felony" when he entered his
guilty plea. To do so, we look to the language of the
deferred sentencing statute and rules of criminal procedure
applicable to guilty pleas.
[¶9] Colorado's deferred sentencing
statute requires a defendant to enter " a plea of
guilty" to a charge before the court continues the case
for the purpose of later entering judgment and sentence.
§ 18-1.3-102(1)(a). But, a court may not accept a plea
of guilty without first determining, among other things, that
" the defendant understands the nature of the charge and
the elements of the offense to which he is pleading and the