17 April 2006

The Coates-Eid Alliance

Newly appointed Colorado Supreme Court Justice Eid has opened up her career in the Colorado Supreme Court by joining a couple of concurring in part, dissenting in part opinions of Justice Coates. This is significant, as it gives us our first direct view of how she will behave as a judge in areas where her academic and professional record provide no obvious guidance.

Her first vote in an argued case was in the case of Public Service Co. v. Meadow Island Ditch Co. No. 2, in which she joined Justice Coates in an opinion dissenting in part and concurring in part, chiding the majority for too loosely reading language in contracts concerning a transfer of water rights. The practical impact on the case law was minimal, but signals that Eid foresees herself as a stickler for the details of the record.

Eid's second vote in an argued case, joins Justice Coates who concurs in part and dissents in part in the case of People v. Humphrey. In Humphrey, the trial court suppressed a confession in a criminal case based on a claimed Miranda violation and also finds that the statement was involuntary. The majority held that there was not a Miranda violation, and that part of the confession should be suppressed because it was involuntary, while part of the confession was not involuntary and should be admitted.

Coates and Eid argued that the entire confession should have been admitted. Unlike the Public Service Company case, this case involves a dispute regarding the applicable law. Here, Coates and Eid argue that suppression of evidence ought to be subject to a plenary standard of review (i.e. without deferrence to the trial court's findings) while the majority holds that these decisions should be reviewed on the basis of an abuse of discretion standard (i.e. deferring to thetrial court's findings to the extent that there is essentially any support in the trial court record). The dissenters also argue, in an echo of the Public Service case, that the majority is sloppy in the way it chooses to parse a less than exemplary opinion from the trial court judge supporting the trial court judge's suppression decision. It is more complex than that, of course, but those are the key differences between the majority and the dissent.

Colorado Supreme Court junkies, however, will still have to wait a while before we have the first of Justice Eid's own opinions, so stay tuned. Given the rapid pace with which the Colorado Supreme Court decides cases compared to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the fact that Justice Eid is already voting in cases before the Court, it will only be a matter of weeks before we start to hear Justice Eid's new voice on the Court, and the Colorado Supreme Court has been busily agreeing to take a rather heavy load of new cases lately.

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