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People v. Shank

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 11, 2018

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff
v.
Alyse Elaine Shank and Six Thousand Fourteen Dollars in United States Currency. Defendants

          Original Proceeding Pursuant to C.A.R. 21 Adams County District Court Case No. 16CV32106 Honorable Emily E. Anderson, Judge

          Attorneys for Plaintiff: Dave Young, District Attorney, Seventeenth Judicial District Cameron M. Munier, Senior Deputy District Attorney Brighton, Colorado

          Attorneys for Defendants: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender Andrea R. Gammell, Lead Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado.

          OPINION

          BOATRIGHT JUSTICE.

         ¶1 In this original proceeding, we consider whether the Office of the State Public Defender ("the P.D.")[1] is authorized to represent an indigent party in a civil forfeiture proceeding. The People argue that the P.D. does not have statutory authority to enter its appearance in civil forfeiture matters. The respondent, Alyse Elaine Shank, asserts that the statute that authorizes the P.D. to represent indigent defendants in criminal proceedings contains a general grant of authority for the P.D. to appear in any case where the P.D. deems such representation to be in the interest of justice. We granted the district attorney's C.A.R. 21 petition to show cause why the trial court did not err in denying the People's motion to disqualify the public defender.

         ¶2 We hold that the statute authorizing public defenders to represent indigent defendants does not extend to civil forfeiture actions. Thus, the trial court erred by denying the People's motion to disqualify. Accordingly, we make our rule to show cause absolute.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 The People charged Shank with three drug offenses, including one alleging distribution. She was appointed a public defender. The People later brought a civil forfeiture action related to the criminal charges. In that case, the People sought forfeiture of the proceeds of Shank's alleged crimes pursuant to section 16-13-303(6), C.R.S. (2017). The P.D. entered its appearance on Shank's behalf and contested the forfeiture. In response, the People sought to disqualify the public defender from representing Shank, alleging that the P.D. lacked the authority to appear in the case because the statutes governing public defender representation did not authorize representation in civil forfeiture cases.

         ¶4 Shank argued that the P.D. has the statutory authority to "[p]rosecute any appeals or other remedies" that the P.D. "considers to be in the interest of justice, " and that therefore representation in the civil forfeiture matter was statutorily authorized because the P.D. did in fact determine such representation to be in the interest of justice. The trial court agreed, adopting the public defender's position and denying the People's motion to disqualify. The district attorney then sought relief under C.A.R. 21 and we issued a rule to show cause.

         II. Original Jurisdiction

         ¶5 This case is an original proceeding under C.A.R. 21, an extraordinary remedy solely within the discretion of this court. This court will generally elect to hear cases pursuant to C.A.R. 21 only when the normal appellate process would prove inadequate or when there is an overriding public interest in a swift and certain resolution of the case. See People v. Steen, 2014 CO 9, ¶ 8, 318 P.3d 487, 490. This case raises an important question of statutory interpretation with potential statewide ramifications. Additionally, the underlying facts at issue-the P.D.'s appearance in the forfeiture matter-could not, as a practical matter, be remedied on appeal because the trial would already have been completed by the time the court of appeals could review it through the normal appellate process. We therefore exercise our discretion under C.A.R. 21 to hear this case.

         III. Standard of Review

         ¶6 Whether the statutory framework governing public defender representation permits the P.D. to appear in the civil forfeiture case presents a question of statutory interpretation that we review de novo. See Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Equalization v. Gerganoff, 241 P.3d 932, 935 (Colo. 2010). We begin by looking to the plain language of the statute, construing words and phrases according to the rules of grammar and common usage. Id. In determining the meaning of a statute, our central task is to give effect to the General Assembly's intent. Id. To this end, we read the statute as a whole and seek to give consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all its parts. Id.

         IV. ...


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