Judge denies gag order, for now
A judge ruled Thursday that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant a gag order in the public corruption case against former Montezuma County Undersheriff Robin Cronk.
Cronk’s court-appointed attorney Justin Bogan filed a gag order request against both the district attorney’s office and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office. He told District Court Judge Todd Plewe that Sheriff Dennis Spruell had made multiple public statements that jeopardize his client’s right to due process.
“The statements from the sheriff greatly erode Mr. Cronk’s right to a fair trial by a jury of his peers,” Bogan said. “We have grave concerns if he can even get a fair trial in this jurisdiction.”
In addition to statements made to the media, Bogan asserted that most of Sheriff Spruell’s comments have been made on his agency Facebook page. However, Bogan didn’t provide any evidence to corroborate his allegations.
“I haven’t looked at the Facebook page,” Bogan admitted during Thursday afternoon’s 15-minute proceeding.
“Isn’t that an important part for the court’s determination, to find out what’s on the Facebook page?” Judge Plewe asked. “Nothing’s been presented to me as to what those statements might be.”
District Attorney Will Furse said that neither his agency nor the sheriff’s department have crossed the lines of professional or ethical conduct. He said statements included in the Cortez Journal were not direct quotes, but instead mere “journalistic summaries.”
“The defense has not identified anything that is prejudicial,” Furse said. “We don’t believe a gag order is necessary.”
Bogan said he wasn’t accusing anyone of professional misconduct in the case, but he did want the court to define and adopt rules and guidelines as set out by the American Bar Association on how litigants interact with the press.
“I can’t find anything the [district attorney] is doing publicly as it relates to this case,” said Judge Plewe in denying the gag order against prosecutors.
As far as the gag order against the sheriff’s office, Judge Plewe granted the defense five days to supplement its motion.
“Right now, what’s been presented to me isn’t sufficient to issue a gag order,” he said.
A Montezuma County grand jury indicted Cronk on 17 counts of felony embezzlement charges last month. The alleged crimes stem from his abuse of both a Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office credit card and checking account along with a sheriff’s office line of credit to pay for personal gunsmithing services, vehicle maintenance, holsters, generators, gun components, ammunition and firearms over a 26-month span starting in February 2011. Records show Cronk left taxpayers holding a $7,415.36 bill for his personal items.
Cronk was tapped as undersheriff in January 2011. He was forced to resign the post in June due to the public corruption allegations.
Currently free on a $1,500 bond, Cronk’s next scheduled court appearance is Sept. 19, at 2:30 p.m. for a disposition hearing.