People v. Maser, 11SC552.
|04 June 2012
|2012 CO 41,278 P.3d 361
|The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner v. Beverly MASER, Respondent.
|Colorado Supreme Court
OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE
Daniel H. May, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District, Doyle J. Baker, Deputy District Attorney, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner.
Marrison Family Law, LLC, M. Patricia Marrison, Michael A. Lucas, John Paul Lyle, Lauren M. Hulse, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondent.
¶ 1 In this appeal, we address whether the court of appeals has jurisdiction to review a district court order dismissing a misdemeanor charge in a county court case that was improperly transferred to the district court in violation of a chief judge's order governing such transfers within the judicial district. While it is questionable whether the district court had jurisdiction to dismiss the county court charge, we nevertheless hold that the only forum for an initial appeal of such a dismissal is in the court of appeals because it is a final judgment of the district court. We note that to hold otherwise would render this important issue of the respect owed to a controlling chief judge's order unreviewable. Accordingly, we hold that the court of appeals has jurisdiction over this appeal and we remand this matter to the court of appeals to review the district court's dismissal on the merits.
¶ 2 The facts underlying the present criminal appeal are closely related to post-decree domestic litigation between the defendant, Beverly Maser, and her ex-husband. Although the couple's marriage was legally dissolved in 2006, their domestic case remains ongoing in El Paso County District Court as they continue to share parenting time and responsibilities with respect to their two minor children.
¶ 3 On March 5, 2011,1 during her parenting time with the children, Maser brought their fifteen-year-old son to her ex-husband's house to retrieve a videogame console. Maser and her son had not been getting along that day, and after her son went into her ex-husband's house, he refused to leave with Maser. Maser rang the doorbell several times and was eventually confronted by her ex-husband's new wife, who informed her that Maser's son was old enough to make his own choices and that he had decided to remain at her ex-husband's house for the evening. Maser gave up and returned to her hotel with her other child.
¶ 4 Later that evening, the police arrived at Maser's hotel room and informed her that there had been a criminal complaint made against her because of her alleged criminal behavior at her ex-husband's house earlier in the day. 2 After speaking with her, the police served Maser with a summons for second-degree criminal tampering causing annoyance, a class-two misdemeanor under section 18–4–505, C.R.S. (2011), and ordered her to appear in El Paso County Court at a later date to answer this charge.
¶ 5 Shortly after the incident, on March 7, 2011, Maser filed an emergency motion in the district court handling the post-decree issues, stating that her ex-husband had violated the court's parenting time order by encouraging and facilitating her son's decision not to permit her to exercise her allocated parenting time. Maser also requested that the district court dismiss the criminal complaint filed against her and pending in county court.
¶ 6 By minute order,3 on March 14, 2011, the domestic court dismissed Maser's county court criminal complaint. Both Maser and the People stipulate that this dismissal failed to follow the protocol for transferring criminal cases from county court to district court in El Paso County as set forth in “Fourth Judicial District Chief Judge Order 2008–02 (Transfer of County Court Criminal Cases to District Court).” Under this chief judge's order, a district court in the Fourth Judicial District may, in its discretion, take jurisdiction over any non-domestic violence misdemeanor pending in county court. However, before jurisdiction may be transferred, the district court must first give notice to the parties and request that the county court issue a minute order transferring the case to the district court. Here, it appears that the district court judge located the county court criminal case on the courthouse's shared computer database and then assumed jurisdiction to entertain the criminal complaint without prior notice to the county court or to the People. The district court then dismissed the county court case.
¶ 7 The People, who were not present at the district court domestic proceeding, did not learn about the dismissal of the county court criminal case until later. Arguing that the district court did not have jurisdiction to dismiss the county court matter, the People appealed the district court order to the court of appeals.
¶ 8 The court of appeals issued a rule to show cause why it had jurisdiction over the People's appeal, which it reasoned was a request to review a final order issued in a county court case. After briefing by the People, the court of appeals dismissed the People's appeal, without considering the merits, on the grounds that it could not hear an appeal from the county court.
¶ 9 The People sought certiorari review by this court.4 We now reverse the court of appeals' order and hold that the court of appeals has jurisdiction to hear the People's appeal.
¶ 11 There are two types of trial courts in Colorado: county courts and district courts. People v. Sherrod, 204 P.3d 466, 469 (Colo.2009). Relevant here, pursuant to section 13–6–106(1)(a), C.R.S. (2011), county courts and district courts share concurrent original jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal cases. Hence, a defendant accused of a misdemeanor offense may be tried in either county or district court.
¶ 12 For each of the two types of trial courts, Colorado law provides a unique path for final appellate review. A conviction entered in the county court is, as a matter of statutory right, automatically appealable to the district court of the judicial district in which the county is located. § 13–6–310(1), C.R.S. (2011). In contrast, a conviction entered in the district court is directly appealable to the court of appeals. § 13–4–102(1), C.R.S. (2011). After this initial appeal, either party may then petition the supreme court for certiorari review of the appellate holding. C.A.R. 49. Because all district courts are of equal stature, “[a] district court may not assume the authority or power to superintend or review the propriety of or supervise the judgment of another district court.” State v. Pena, 911 P.2d 48, 57 (Colo.1996).
¶ 13 The People seek appellate review of a final order of the El Paso County District Court dismissing...
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