Man accused of attorney threat
Defender argues comments were vague, not a crime
A crime suspect’s angry courthouse outburst after a series of prosecution mixups involving the case against him has led to an unusual new charge and prompted authorities to bring in an outside judge to preside over it.
Roland W. Finney, who will turn 36 Friday, faces a single charge of intimidating a public servant in connection with a verbal altercation with Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla last year.
Spokane County prosecutors already had brought in Lincoln County Prosecutor Jeff Barkdull to handle the case, but Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen on Monday decided to send the case to a judge outside of the county, citing a witness list that includes a deputy prosecutor and fellow Superior Court Judge Michael Price.
It’s not clear in court records whether Price witnessed the interaction, but it occurred following a hearing before Price on Aug. 30.
Cipolla had refiled drug-related charges against Finney that had earlier been dismissed. Finney appeared without his attorney, who was not given notice of the hearing, according to the court documents.
In an affidavit, Cipolla wrote that Finney said things like “Cipolla we had a deal,” “You promised not to charge this” and “You better make this right.”
Cipolla left the courtroom and was followed by Finney and a companion.
“He then threatened to take me outside and ‘kick my ass,’ ” Cipolla wrote. “He made this threat numerous times.”
As the men continued to walk out of the Spokane County Courthouse, Finney kept talking.
“The threats continued to escalate including killing my wife, ‘Life is a bitch, you marry one and then she dies’ and that I had better watch out,” Cipolla wrote.
But Finney’s attorney, Kari Reardon, wrote in court records that Finney had a good reason to be upset.
She wrote that after the original drug charges against Finney were dismissed in September 2009, Cipolla re-filed the same charges on July 29 but sent the summons to a Mead address even though Finney’s last known address was 1920 E. First Ave. in Spokane.
When Finney did not appear in court because the summons was sent to the wrong address, prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for failure to appear. Finney then was arrested and held in jail on a $20,000 bond.
“Mr. Finney does not dispute … that he was irritated with Mr. Cipolla,” Reardon wrote.
But Reardon also cited two cases – which included comments in other cases very similar to those attributed to Finney – where judges found that prosecutors did not have probable cause to show that threats constituted intimidation of a public servant. That statute requires that the “threat was made with the purpose of influencing a public servant’s official action.”
“The truth of the matter is that for some, life is a bitch,” Reardon wrote, referring to comments about the Cipolla’s spouse. “Further, everybody dies. Mr. Finney is not alleged to have said that he was going to kill Mr. Cipolla’s wife.”
Even the comments about stepping outside were simply invitations, not threats, Reardon wrote.
“All of the statements attributed to Roland Finney are vague and not clear, true threats,” she wrote. “While Mr. Finney’s comments are not commendable, they do not demonstrate an attempt to influence an official action.”