Urbigkit case: What happened in court
Initial Appearance on charge of interfering with a police officer
by Dawn Ballou, Editor, Pinedale Online!
May 4, 2007
See our story, "Rancher arrested, but not because he shot the bear", for the background on this story.
Urbigkit's citation gave a court appearance date of Thursday, May 3rd in the Circuit Court of the Sublette County Courthouse for 10:00 AM. This was explained as a "Must Appear" court appearance.
Urbigkit, and his wife Cat, showed up at the courthouse on Thursday morning ready for court, as ordered on the citation. They were represented by Pinedale defense attorney, Betsy Greenwood. Upon arriving at the courthouse on court day and reviewing the court roster list posted on the courtroom door, they saw that Jim Urbigkit’s name was not on the appearance roster.
Greenwood said she had received a phone call the day before from Meredith Peterson, Chief Deputy County Attorney for Sublette County, saying the District Attorney's office was declining to prosecute this charge and Jim Urbigkit need not appear in court on Thursday.
Greenwood went in chambers with Judge Curt Haws before Thursday’s court about the apparent dismissal of the case without her client being given the opportunity to speak before him. She requested that her client be able to have the citation dismissed in open court and be given an opportunity to make a public statement. The Judge scheduled a court hearing time for that afternoon.
At the 1:30 PM court hearing, attorney Betsy Greenwood explained the arrest situation to Judge Haws. She asked to have the citation dismissed and to have her client’s $1,000 bond immediately issued back to him. She also asked him to order the Sheriff’s Office to provide them with a copy of the police report of the arrest and any jail surveillance tapes and recordings of the phone conversations with the deputies and Urbigkit on the day of the arrest. These were items she had already requested in writing from the Sheriff's Office, but was told would not be given until the DA's office authorized the Sheriff's Office to produce them.
The Judge gave Urbigkit a chance to make a statement:
Jim Urbigkit: "A week ago this past Sunday, I was arrested in my own home, handcuffed, transported to the Pinedale jail, searched, fingerprinted, stripped naked and dressed in an orange jump suit, and jailed for half a day waiting for my bail to be set at $1000. The specific action of mine that I was arrested for was offering to answer all of Deputy Sparks’ questions with my attorney present. Under that standard, I have no rights in this county. I don’t have the right to counsel, the right to remain silent, the right to due process or security in my own home. I am extremely upset and troubled. Simply declining to prosecute does not restore my rights nor limit the power of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department to arrest me at any time. Thank you."
Judge Haws explained that the decision whether or not to present charges in any case rested with the County Attorney’s office. Since the charges had been dismissed by the District Attorney, there was no case before him. As a result, he had no jurisdiction to order production of any documents since there was no case under his jurisdiction.
Judge Haws said, "It appears to me that the gate-keeping function, which is served by our county attorneys, functioned well in this case. Upon review of the actions of the police officers, determined there was no violation of law, and so have decided not to proceed. So, even though it proceeded beyond what you were comfortable with, and I certainly would probably be saying exactly the same things you are if I were you, the gate-keeping function worked in this case."
"It strikes me that the proper recourse for the violation of your rights, the deprivation of your rights that you feel you have suffered as your case has been presented, would be through a civil action against the county," Judge Haws told Urbigkit.
The Judge said the citation had been dismissed and the $1000 bail returned to the jail where it could be picked up.
He said further discussion was outside the involvement of his court and was between Urbigkit and his attorney and the County Attorney’s office, so he adjourned the court hearing.
Urbigkit and Greenwood have not announced their plans for any further civil legal action in this case.
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