April 05, 2018
2018 COA 46. No. 15CA0413. People v. Fortson.
Sexual Assault on a Child—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Character Evidence—Other Acts Evidence. Read More..
A jury found Fortson guilty of one count of sexual assault on a child and one count of sexual assault on a child as a part of a pattern of abuse.
On appeal, Fortson contended that the prosecutor improperly referenced and elicited evidence of other acts of sexual assault and sexual misconduct for propensity purposes and that she did so without first seeking to admit the evidence, presenting an offer of proof, or obtaining a ruling. The prosecutor committed misconduct when she repeatedly introduced, referenced, and argued to the jury that defendant previously committed uncharged sexual assaults against four other girls and the victim. The prosecutor did not seek the admission of the alleged uncharged sexual assaults for a proper purpose and improperly used this evidence for propensity purposes. The prosecutor’s pervasive misconduct undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial and cast serious doubt on the reliability of the judgment.
The judgments of conviction were reversed and the case was remanded.
2018 COA 47. No. 15CA1175. People v. Short.
A jury found Short guilty of sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse.
On appeal, Short contended that the testimony of three witnesses improperly bolstered the victim’s credibility. Short did not object to any of this testimony. It was not improper for the therapist to testify as an expert as to the typical demeanor and behavioral traits displayed by a sexually abused child. It was also not improper for the detective to testify concerning his observations about child victim disclosures; he rendered no opinion about whether a child’s difficulty in disclosing something made it more or less likely that he or she was telling the truth. Finally, although the grandmother’s testimony that the victim “normally would not lie about something like that” was improper, it did not warrant reversal.
Short also argued that the trial court erroneously compelled him to forgo admitting an exculpatory part of a statement he gave to the police by telling him that, if that part of the statement was admitted, the prosecution would be permitted to expose the jury to the fact that he had previously been convicted of a felony. The trial court properly determined that Short’s otherwise inadmissible self-serving hearsay was admissible under the rule of completeness to qualify, explain, or place into context the evidence proffered by the prosecution. However, a defendant’s exculpatory statement to the police admissible under the rule of completeness is not subject to impeachment under CRE 806. Although the trial court erred, the error was harmless.
Short also contended and the People conceded that only one judgment of conviction and sentence should have been imposed in this case. The trial court incorrectly entered separate convictions for sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse. The pattern of abuse count acts only as a sentence enhancer.
The judgment was affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case was remanded with directions.
2018 COA 49. No. 17CA0405. Preferred Professional Insurance Co. v. The Doctors Company.
Medical Malpractice—Primary Insurance Policy—Excess Insurance Policy—Equitable Subrogation —Bad Faith. Read More..
A medical malpractice suit was filed against Dr. Singh and other parties. The Doctors Company (TDC), the primary insurer, defended Dr. Singh in the suit as required by its primary liability policy. Preferred Professional Insurance Company’s (PPIC) insurance policy was an “excess policy,” which would cover any losses that exceeded TDC’s $1 million coverage up to an additional $1 million. As an excess insurer, PPIC did not have any duty to defend Dr. Singh in the suit. The plaintiff in the medical malpractice suit offered to settle the case with Dr. Singh for $1 million, the amount of TDC’s policy limits. Dr. Singh conveyed his desire to accept the settlement offer to both insurers, but TDC declined to settle the case. PPIC told Dr. Singh he should accept, and it paid the $1 million settlement. PPIC then filed suit against TDC for equitable subrogation to recover the amount paid. The district court granted summary judgment in PPIC’s favor without addressing TDC’s argument that PPIC was required to prove that TDC refused to settle in bad faith.
On appeal, TDC contended that the district court erred as a matter of law because an equitable subrogation claim brought by an excess insurer against the primary insurer to recover the amount paid in settlement can only be derivative of the insured’s rights. Thus, PPIC’s refusal to plead and present evidence that TDC acted in bad faith in declining to settle required dismissal of PPIC’s claim. An excess insurer seeking recovery under equitable subrogation for a primary insurer’s failure to settle a case against their mutual insured “steps in the shoes of the insured” and must plead and prove the primary insurer’s bad faith. Here, without an assertion that TDC acted in bad faith, PPIC’s equitable subrogation claim is not legally viable.
The order granting summary judgment for PPIC was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment of dismissal in TDC’s favor.
2018 COA 50. No. 17CA0952. People in re C.Y.
Dependency and Neglect—Recusal—Disqualification.
In this dependency and neglect proceeding, during the termination hearing, the judge realized she had served as a guardian ad litem (GAL) on a different case involving mother’s oldest child. The judge declined to recuse herself from the case over mother’s objection and terminated mother’s parental rights.
On appeal, mother contended that the judge erred by not recusing herself from the termination hearing based on her having served as the GAL of mother’s older child in 2005. The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Here, both the GAL and the Department of Human Services discussed the 2005 case and urged the court to rely on it when ruling on the termination motion, which the court did. Under these circumstances, the judge created the appearance of impropriety by presiding over the case and abused her discretion by not recusing herself.
The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new termination hearing before a different judicial officer.