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Esquibel v. Board of Education Centennial School Dist. R-1

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

January 14, 2016

Augustine Roy Esquibel, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Board of Education Centennial School District R-1, Defendant-Appellee

          Costilla County District Court No. 15CV30008. Honorable Martin A. Gonzales, Judge.

         Alexander Halpern, LLC, Alexander Halpern, Boulder, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

         Caplan and Earnest, LLC, W. Stuart Stuller, Kristin C. Edgar, Boulder, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee.

         Opinion by JUDGE FURMAN. Richman, J., concurs. Hawthorne, J., dissents.

          OPINION

         FURMAN, JUDGE.

          [¶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 court's order.

         I. 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 court's ruling.

         II. " 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 ...


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