Access to public defender challenged
Undersheriff Cronk earned $6,041/month
Although qualified as an indigent citizen eligible for legal counsel by a public defender, accused felony embezzler Robin Cronk earned nearly $10,000 in his last month of duty as Montezuma County undersheriff.
County payroll records reveal Cronk was paid more than $40,000 in wages during the first half of 2013, earning $6,041 per month from January through May. In his last month as undersheriff before being forced to resign in June, records show Cronk raked in $9,944.20 in wages and earned time off.
“[Cronk’s] last check is not a salary increase, but any time he had not been paid for,” said a sheriff’s department spokesperson.
The June payroll included Cronk’s unpaid vacation and holiday time that he had accumulated, and does not reflect any type of severance package, officials said.
During an arraignment hearing last week, District Court Judge Todd Plewe ordered the former undersheriff to resubmit his public defender application.
Justin Bogan, Cronk’s public defender, declined to comment.
Guidelines stipulate that if a defendant’s income is more than 75 percent above the income eligibility guidelines, then he or she is not eligible for court-appointed counsel. For an individual, that threshold is reached when annual income surpasses $23,691. For a family of three, the annual income limit is $40,053.
State law defines an indigent person as one whose financial circumstances prevent the person from having equal access to the legal process. Subject to review by the court, the initial determination of indigence is made by the public defender’s office, and the court ultimately either grants or denies the request for appointment of the public defender.
Based on a one-page application, eligibility is determined by analyzing both gross income from all members of the household and personal assets, which could be used to pay defense costs, against essential monthly expenses. The analysis assigns point values to gross income, assets and expenses, and if the applicant scores 150 points or greater, then he or she is eligible for a public defender.
Records show court appointed counsel charge $65 per hour for legal fees, but the law limits how much public defenders earn, based on the type of crime. In an embezzlement case, for example, the maximum paid to a public defender is $8,575 if the case goes to trial and $4,300 if disposition is reached before trial.
Based upon reassessment of a party’s financial circumstances, the court may terminate a state-paid appointment, require the defendant to reimburse the State of Colorado of all or part of the costs incurred or to be incurred, or continue the appointment in its current pay status.
Despite his salary, Cronk was granted a public defender on charges stemming from an 18-count grand jury indictment. He is accused of using taxpayer money to purchase nearly $7,500 of personal items during the time he served as undersheriff.
In related news, Judge Plewe last week also approved a defense request to unseal the court records pertaining to the charges against Cronk. Bogan said he couldn’t adequately counsel his client when court records remain sealed.
“Even the arrest warrant in the matter contains redacted information,” Bogan said during arraignment proceedings.
District Attorney Will Furse didn’t oppose the request, citing the investigation into the alleged criminal activity has concluded.
Bogan also requested a gag order be placed on both the district attorney’s office and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office during the criminal proceedings against his client. Judge Plewe set a hearing on the defense motion for Sept. 5 at 2 p.m.