AHS hears court of appeals cases

ALAMOSA—Students at Alamosa High School got a visit from the Colorado Court of Appeals on Tuesday morning as part of their Courts in the Community outreach program. The audience witnessed lawyers giving their side of the story during two real court cases in the school's auditorium.

In the first case, "Chad R. Robison v. Circle T Land Co. et al," attorney Erich Schwiesow represented the appellant.

In 2015 Chad Robison and Steve Tonso negotiated sale of land via emails and text. Tonso received a larger offer on the land and didn't sell it to Robison. Robison sued for breach of contract but no written contract was ever completed. The trial court dismissed the claim since there was no agreement on paper.

"It's appropriate we're having this at Alamosa High School. If you came down Highway 17 then you would have passed the ranch," Schwiesow said.

Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Rebecca Freyre said the term of having an electronic signature wasn't met because they discussed creating a paper contract. Freyre also wondered when an electronic signature counts since most people sign emails with their name.

Schwiesow argued that that is why the issue can't be separated. "Any email signed by Steven is a binding signature," said Schwiesow.

Attorney Michael Waters, who represented the appellee, argued that the emails weren't clear enough. "I give permission all the time over email for people to sign on my behalf, but it has to be explicit."

Waters also argued that because a written contract was mentioned then the emails aren't a binding contract. "In the June email it says to 'put pen to paper'," said Waters. "The June 29, 2015 email asks 'Is it time to put together some sort of contract?'"

Waters mentioned that emails didn't clarify who the involved parties were. The initial emails are signed by Chad Robison but then Robison Trust appears later on.

Judge Robert Hawthorne asked if the names made a difference.

"Yes," replied Waters. "If it's a meeting of the minds but we don't know who is meeting then it's not binding."

Schwiesow was allowed a rebuttal since he had a burden of proof. He quoted from the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act of 1999 to show that the emails were a valid and binding contract.

Before the second case, Judge Karen Ashby recused herself and was replaced by Judge Russell Carparelli because Ashby has met attorney Antony Noble before.

Noble represented the appellant in "The People of the State of Colorado v. Marcus Lessard." Lessard was convicted of violating a permanent protection order (PPO) because he served his stalking victim court documents on two occasions.

Noble began his argument by stating that service by mail doesn't violate the PPO.

Freyre asked if it was legal for Lessard to serve it in the first place since the documents are about the PPO. Noble said that Lessard was filing to challenge the PPO and have it vacated, not to have it modified or dismissed.

"What's the difference between vacating or dismissing?" said Hawthorne.

Noble responded by saying that dismissing means shortening the PPO but Lessard is asking it to be vacated since he believes it wasn't valid in the first place.

Freyre understood that Lessard was required to serve the other party but she wondered why he didn't ask the judge because of the PPO.

Assistant Attorney General Nicole Wiggins represented the appellee. "It says 'knowingly contact' and what he did was knowingly contact the victim," said Wiggins. "It doesn't matter what he thought he could do."

Hawthorne stated that Noble believes it violates his rights to access the court.

"He can still file any other number of lawsuits in the world, just not this one," Wiggins said.

Since the burden of proof was with Noble he had the opportunity for a rebuttal. "He has a constitutional right to access the court no matter what the PPO says."                                                                 

At the end of each case students had the opportunity to ask the attorneys questions. Once both cases were heard they could also ask questions of the judges, as long as it didn't pertain to the case.

One student asked if it was difficult being an appeals attorney. Wiggins said that sometimes it is because they have to rely on the lower courts. "You're stuck with the record and you have to defend it whether you like it or not."

Noble said that criminal trials are longer than civil cases, which can make it challenging if you weren't there. "These trials could have gone on for weeks so we have thousands of pages of transcripts," said Noble. "We also don't always know the attorney's goal so we have to go with the argument made."

Another audience member asked what it takes to be a lawyer or a judge. "You have to have a commitment to serve the people," said Carparelli.

Freyre mentioned how becoming a lawyer didn't cross her mind until after college. Initially she worked in the finance industry and thought about maybe becoming a corporate lawyer. But once Freyre started law school she realized she wanted to be a public defender.

"Enjoy what you're doing now and it will lead you," she said.

After hearing the cases the students had lunch with the judges in the gym.

Two out of the three judges have to reach an agreement before issuing a ruling on the cases. It could take several weeks until the judges have a verdict. "We'll spend as much time as it takes," said Carparelli.