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Cortez Municipal Court launches Outreach Court to address underlying issues of crime

Cortez City Hall includes a new municipal courtroom. Journal file photo
90-day program helps defendants deal with issues while partnering with local organizations

In August, Cortez Municipal Court launched an outreach court to help address the underlying issues that bring about crime and time in the courtroom.

Some of the issues the municipal court cited were housing instability, mental health and/or substance abuse, and they noted that they are modeling this program after the American Bar Association’s Homeless Court Program.

“If someone’s picking up quite a few alcohol-related offenses, we help them address that. And we hope they would want to address their alcohol use so that then they’re not coming in the courtroom anymore,” Cortez Municipal Judge Beth Padilla told The Journal.

“It’s a completely voluntary program,” she said. “I don’t order them to address substance use, I don’t order them to address housing. I say, ‘Your three options are housing, mental health or substance use. What do you want to work on and what agency are you going to partner with to reach your goals?’”

Beth Padilla was sworn in as a Municipal Court Judge in 2021.

According to the American Bar, Cortez is “the first municipality in Colorado to implement their model.”

In this program, any person with a pending case, outstanding court costs or fines and/or suspended jail sentence are eligible. Meetings take place on the first Monday of the month at 11 a.m. The program is 90 days in total.

This is a voluntary program, and it is up to the defendant to decide whether they want to participate. To join the program, the defendant informs the court of their decision, and will then work with the program’s hub, Piñon Project, to “determine the agency they will utilize to address the issue.”

Padilla said she believes about 20 defendants have enrolled in the program.

“If the person wants to work on their alcohol use, I would say, ‘OK, do you want to work with the recovery center or Axis?’ Or if they’re a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, ‘Do you want to work with someone from your tribe?’” Judge Padilla said.

If the defendant doesn’t complete the program in its entirety or to the satisfaction of program leaders, or they decide they don’t want to complete the program, they will return to a normal docket.

“Outreach court is really allowing defendants to address the issues that they believe are causing the problems,” Padilla said.

Carla Odell works from her municipal office in the Cortez City Hall building. (Journal file photo)

After registering, the defendant agrees to work with the agency to which they are assigned for 90 days to address whatever issues are deemed in need of intervention, and the cases are then placed into a diversionary status.

“If the defendant successfully completes the treatment program the case will be dismissed; however, if they do not complete the program the case will return to the normal docket. Defendants with outstanding restitution are not eligible for the program,” according to the court.

Because defendants are working with local agencies, the Outreach Court program does not require additional funding.

The court said this is possible through partnership with Piñon Project’s Homelessness Prevention Coordinator Lucia Bueno-Valdez, Court Administrator/Clerk Carla Odel, Pam Imm, Cortez Municipal Court staff Drew Buffington, City of Cortez Prosecutor Rachel Muhonen, Ethan Sumrall, Marshall Sumrall, Court Appointed Counsel Rachel Sims, Judge Padilla and fill-in Judge Michael Wanger.

More information about Outreach Court can be found by contacting Carla Odell at 970-565-7952.

The next outreach court will take place Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. and the first meeting of 2024 will take place Jan. 8 at the Municipal Court in City Hall at 123 Roger Smith.