Judge refuses step aside for Cronk trial

Defender: Plewe a victim of alleged embezzlement

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. The alleged public corruption stems from his abuse of multiple Montezuma County Sheriff's Office financial accounts, including personal gunsmithing services, vehicle maintenance, holsters, generators, gun components, ammunition and firearms over a 26-month span starting in February 2011. Records allege Cronk bilked taxpayers out of nearly $7,500 for the personal items.

Cronk was tapped as undersheriff in January 2011. He was forced to resign the post in June 2013 because of the allegations. He is free on a $1,500 bond.

Cronk was declared indigent and eligible to receive court-appointed counsel despite earning more than $6,000 a month as undersheriff.

A trial date in the case has been set for April 21. The jury trial is projected to last two weeks.