Retired District Court Judge Jane Tidball today ruled that the juror accused of misconduct in the Michael Blagg murder case was in fact in contempt of court. Judge Tidball cited legal documents she believed indicated the juror was knowingly exposed to domestic abuse decades ago. The judge further stated that, beyond reasonable doubt, the juror had opportunities “to revise or elaborate” about her experience with domestic abuse, but that she “willfully failed to answer fully the questions on the questionnaire” in the Blagg case. She concluded the juror had “offended the dignity of the Court” and ruled her in contempt.
Judge Tidball set a sentencing hearing for June 26. The juror can potentially be ordered to spend up to six months in jail, and the Mesa County District Attorney is attempting to extract tens of thousands of dollars in fines from the juror, seeking to have her pay the costs of Blagg’s trial, including expert witness fees, hotel and meal expenses.
D.A. Seeks Tens of Thousands of Dollars from Former Juror
Judge Tidball, citing the proposed “remedial” portion of the contempt, asked Chief Deputy District Attorney Daniel Rubenstein, who is leading the charge against the juror, “How is this remedial?” Rubenstein responded that he was seeking both punitive and remedial claims against the juror “If your findings allow for that.” Rubenstein said the DA’s office was trying to make the juror pay the cost of bringing in 500 more potential jurors to screen, to pay the people they retain for jury duty $50 per day after three days, and to fly in witnesses. Rubenstein said his office was “entitled” to the money. Judge Tidball responded, “I understand your theory, but I’m not sure if it’s legally viable. This is not remedial, but punitive. The only remedy [available] is to pay a fine to the court and no one else, and jail time if that’s the case.” She told Rubenstein he “will need to provide legal authority” to attempt to recoup costs of the trial. She asked Rubenstein to submit a brief explaining such authority within two and a half weeks. Rubenstein insisted he will continue seeking to extract restitution from the juror for the DA’s office, but said that the D.A.’s office was fine with having such restitution paid to the court instead of their office. “We won’t change what we ask for, it just changes who it goes to,” he said.
It was standing room only in the courtroom for the hearing. The juror’s attorney, Daniel Shaffer, brought no witnesses on behalf of the juror, while the District Attorney had three witnesses: Jury Commissioner Rose Ann Kelley, Jim Hebenstreit, an investigator with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, and Judge David Bottger, who presided over Blagg’s 2004 trial and the hearing last summer for a retrial. The juror did not take the stand in her own behalf.
During the hearing, Rubenstein played an audio recording of a meeting last year in which investigator Jim Hebenstreit and Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle met with the juror to explain why she had been called back to their office. They informed her that Blagg’s attorneys were after her again in another attempt to get Blagg a new trial. The juror’s father participated in the meeting by telephone from Eagle, Colorado, and can be hard on the recording advising his daughter to tell the truth.
The juror wept as the recording was played.
Her father died suddenly on April 11, just days before today’s court hearing.