A judge Friday agreed to delay a corruption trial for ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, granting three weeks of breathing room to prosecutors who say they face an impossible task after an unexpected resignation.
Whether it's enough time to prepare a persuasive case against Maketa by his new June 27 trial date is an open question.
Maketa, 51, is set to face a jury on nine counts alleging he resorted to extortion, kidnapping and other crimes during his third and final term in office.
In asking for a delay of up to six months, lead prosecutor Mark Hurlbert painted a dire picture of the prosecution's state of readiness after his co-counsel, Grant Fevurly, submitted his resignation Monday.
The junior prosecutor on the two-person team, Fevurly had helped preside over the grand jury investigation that led to Maketa's May 2016 indictment, and he was a "fifty-fifty" partner on handling the case, responsible for vetting half of the more than 25,000 pages of reports and 100 witnesses involved, Hurlbert said.
Prior to the judge's ruling, Hurlbert said that postponing the case until late June wouldn't allow Fevurly's replacement, Chris Wilcox, to get up to speed.
"He could work without sleep for 24 hours a day and it would take a month just to get through everything," Hurlbert said.
Being forced to go to trial by the original trial date of May 31 would create obstacles so severe that Hurlbert's law license could be in jeopardy for ineffectiveness in the courtroom, he told the court.
"I don't say that lightly," he said.
Hurlbert and Wilcox are from the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, which agreed to prosecute the case at the request of El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, who said he wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety because of his long professional association with Maketa.
The last-minute distress call comes at a time the prosecutors' boss, District Attorney George Brauchler, is mounting a run for governor based partly on his tough-on-crime pedigree.
Brauchler personally prosecuted Aurora theater shooter James Holmes and currently has two other closely watched death-penalty cases pending.
In granting a trial delay, 4th Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz agreed that Fevurly's departure was an "exceptional circumstance" under the law. But he said that Maketa's right to a speedy trial also deserved close consideration.
Although requests for trial postponements are common, Hurlbert's presentation was unusual in its urgency and its portrait of a prosecution team facing long odds. They will go head-to-head in court with a defense team considered one of the best in Colorado.
Maketa, 51, is represented by three attorneys, including Denver lawyer Pamela Mackey, who previously squared off against Hurlbert in the unsuccessful prosecution of former NBA giant Kobe Bryant in the early 2000s. Hurlbert, then the district attorney in Summit County, ended up dismissing all counts against Bryant in a case that spawned headlines across the country.
Maketa's defense team objected Friday to any delay, saying Maketa wanted his day in court and the chance to clear his name - pushing prosecutors tight against a pivotal deadline.
Defendants in Colorado have a constitutional right to a trial within six months of the day they enter their not-guilty pleas.
Until the judge approved a delay, Maketa's speedy trial rights were due to expire by June 17. Violating them would mean the dismissal of the case against him, say veteran legal observers.
"This is a sign of trouble for the prosecution, no doubt about it," Richard Tegtmeier, a longtime Colorado Springs defense attorney with no ties to the case, told the newspaper on Thursday.
Vikki Migoya, a spokeswoman for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office, declined to address how the office intends to staff the case, saying that prosecutors will not comment outside of court.
The 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office denied an open-records request from the newspaper seeking a copy of Fevurly's resignation letter, saying the document falls under an exclusion that applies to personnel records.
During his presentation in court, Hurlbert was protective of his former colleague, referring to his "very personal" decision, even as he acknowledged the uniqueness of the situation.
"I've never seen a lawyer leave an office two weeks before a high-profile trial," Hurlbert told the court. "It has never, never happened."
Trials are scheduled for later this year for two of Maketa's top deputies.
Former Undersheriff Paula Presley and former Cmdr. Juan "John" San Agustin were each charged alongside Maketa in a scheme to jail a domestic violence victim to protect a former sheriff's deputy. San Agustin faces two felony counts related to the allegation. Presley, who is charged with six felonies, is also linked to several other alleged crimes.