Lawsuits filed over disputed legal invoice
County, sheriff sue newspaper, each other about Wall's legal fees
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Gary Wall filed lawsuits against each other and the Steamboat Pilot & Today last week, seeking a court determination as to whether the county or the Sheriff’s Office is required to release copies of a disputed legal invoice.
The document in question is a $6,700 legal bill from Ralph A. Cantafio, who has acted as legal counsel for Wall in his ongoing disputes with the commissioners. After the invoice was forwarded to the county for payment, the county commissioners requested more information about what the bill was for – a question Wall has refused to answer, claiming that providing the information would force him to relinquish his attorney-client privilege and “jeopardize the sovereignty of my office.”
Newspaper attorneys filed a notice of non-appearance Monday, informing the court that the Steamboat Pilot & Today, parent company WorldWest LLC, and the reporter named in the suit will not participate in the court proceedings and decline to protest the refusal of the county and the Sheriff’s Office to provide copies of the invoice.
The Pilot & Today’s court filing indicates the newspaper thinks the lawsuits are unjustified and unnecessary
According to the Colorado Open Records Act, a records custodian can seek the court’s guidance only when the custodian is unable to determine whether a public record should be disclosed. In this particular case, the newspaper argues, the Sheriff’s Office and the commissioners denied access to the legal invoice, meaning there is no issue left for the court to decide.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today submitted requests for the legal invoice under the Colorado Open Records Act on Nov. 25.
The Board of County Commissioners has taken the position that the invoice was submitted “for the limited purpose of obtaining payment and that it remains privileged from broader disclosure,” according to the Dec. 1 civil filing by County Attorney John Merrill.
The disputed legal services performed by Cantafio’s office are thought to involve former Sheriff John Warner and former Deputy Lance Eldridge. Eldridge delivered damaging testimony against Wall in the July trial that led to the sheriff’s conviction for driving while ability impaired. Eldridge resigned from the Sheriff’s Office the same day as his testimony and two days later said he felt he “had no choice” but to resign and that the decision was related to his testimony.
In addition to the disputed $6,700, Routt County taxpayers have paid Cantafio’s office nearly $30,000 this year for Sheriff’s Office legal services. Cantafio’s work for Wall is not related to the sheriff’s criminal trial for driving under the influence of alcohol.
A hearing on the lawsuits has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday in Routt County District Court.
– To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail email@example.com
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