State Briefs

Judge refuses to step aside for Cronk trial

A defense motion to disqualify a district court judge from presiding over the public corruption trial of a former undersheriff has been denied - by the judge scheduled to hear the case.

Alternate public defender Katharine Whitney filed the request to disqualify District Court Judge Todd Plewe from the case against former Montezuma County Undersheriff Robin Cronk.

Whitney argued that Plewe, as a taxpayer and resident of Montezuma County, should recuse himself because he was a victim to the alleged embezzlement.

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, Plewe stated that similar cases have been presided over by Colorado judges for more than a century. He also called defense claims "speculative," and stated that he has "no bias or bent of mind related to the defendant."

Cronk is scheduled to appear next in Plewe's court at 2 p.m. on Feb. 4. At that hearing, arguments will be heard on whether to disqualify District Attorney Will Furse from prosecuting the case. Plewe struck down a similar defense request seeking a special prosecutor last fall.

Cronk, now a resident of Phoenix, was indicted by a Montezuma County grand jury on 17 felony counts of embezzlement last August.

Deadlines near for fishing projects

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is accepting applications from individuals, organizations and local governments to distribute up to $650,000 for outdoor recreation activities in Colorado. Matching grants are available in 2014 for projects in Colorado that benefit fishing and recreational shooting ranges.

The Fishing Is Fun program is funded by federal excise taxes on the sale of fishing and boating equipment and come to Colorado through the federal Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. The Shooting Range Development Grant Program is funded by hunting license fee revenues paid for by Colorado hunters and by federal excise taxes on hunting equipment through the federal Wildlife Restoration Program.

Details on the Shooting Range Development program can be found at http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/ShootingRanges/ShootingRangeGrants/Pages/RangeGrants.aspx.

More information on the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program is available at http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/.

Hickenlooper fire plan largely bypassed

DENVER - Recommendations from Gov. John Hickenlooper's wildfire task force are largely gathering dust at the Capitol as legislators focus on less controversial ways to prevent forest fires.

Hickenlooper and legislators have touted their fire agenda, a package of nine bills that focuses on grants and tax incentives for homeowners to clear hazardous brush from their land.

But the governor's own wildfire task force called for much stronger measures in its report late last year. It recommended a statewide building code for houses in the forest, requirements for homeowners to create defensible space on their property, and an upgrade of the state's online wildfire risk map to enable it to rate the fire risk for individual homes.

All of these ideas face resistance at the Legislature and won't be acted on this year.

Keith Worley, a fire prevention specialist who closely followed the governor's task force, called the legislative package "pretty anemic."

Fire officials who followed the task force think it has been ignored, Worley said.

"There has been little or no response from the governor's office. A lot of us are really puzzled by that," he said.

Roberts wants state's emergency radios fixed

DENVER - Colorado's poor emergency radio system would be in for long-overdue repairs under a bill Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, introduced Friday.

Fire chiefs have told Roberts and other legislators that their number one priority is to upgrade the state's Digital Trunk Radio System.

The system is designed to let first responders from all different agencies - local, state and federal - communicate during a crisis.

Colorado started building the system through Homeland Security grants after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But the grants dried up, and the system remains unworkable in many parts of the state. Many fire bosses have to carry two or three radios to relay messages between federal and state forces.

Fixing it will be expensive and will take years. Area fire chiefs have told Roberts that Southwest Colorado alone needs up to seven new transmission towers, at a cost of $10 million each.