Original Proceeding Pursuant to C.A.R. 21 Adams County
District Court Case No. 16CV32106 Honorable Emily E.
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,
In this original proceeding, we consider whether the Office
of the State Public Defender ("the
P.D.") 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.
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.
Facts and Procedural History
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
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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.