Members of the newly formed I-25 Gap Coalition, representing cities, counties, business and economic development interests up and down the I-25 corridor between Denver South and Colorado Springs, will hold a press conference to discuss plans to advocate for accelerating transportation improvements in the gap between Castle Rock and Monument.
What: Media Announcement and Interview Opportunities
When: Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.
Where: 100 Third Street, Castle Rock, 80104, County Admin Building, Douglas County Hearing Room
* Roger Partridge, Douglas County Commissioner
* Congressman Mike Coffman (CO-06)
* Mayor John Suthers, City of Colorado Springs
* Mark Waller, El Paso County Commissioner
* Dirk Draper, President & CEO, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC
* Frank Gray, President & CRO, Castle Rock Economic Development Council
The bill specifies that it is not a discriminatory practice for a private business to decline to contract to provide goods or services:
• That convey a message with which the business chooses not to associate itself or with which the business owner disagrees; or
• For an event that conveys a message with which the business chooses not to associate itself or with which the business owner disagrees.
By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
Groups representing Colorado journalists and citizen requesters of public records are voicing concerns about a legislative proposal to resolve records disputes through mediation.
Although generally in favor of some kind of alternative to litigation for challenging denials of public records, they’ve concluded that HB 17-1177, without substantial revisions, would create additional impediments for people seeking government information under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).
Both the Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Broadcasters Association oppose the bill as introduced by Reps. Cole Wist, R-Centennial, and Alec Garnett, D-Denver, as do Colorado Ethics Watch and Colorado Common Cause. All four organizations participated in the CORA Working Group, a stakeholders’ committee that discussed litigation alternatives last year but did not recommend a specific proposal.
Wist also participated in the CORA Working Group, which came up with a separate bill on digitized public records. In an interview earlier this month, Wist told the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition the goal of HB 17-1177 is to encourage both requesters and government entities to resolve CORA disputes outside of the court system. Litigation currently is the only remedy in the open-records law.
“I’m trying to create incentives for parties to resolve cases without suing,” Wist said. “I hope that people never have to sue to gain access to public records, period.”
But Peg Perl, senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, said the bill seems to presume that CORA disputes often wind up in court when, in fact, there aren’t a lot of open-records lawsuits in Colorado. What frequently happens, she said, is that records requesters just give up when they think a denial is improper because suing can be expensive and intimidating.
“The number one goal of citizens making requests is to get the actual documents and to get them in a timely manner,” she said. “To the extent that we favor some sort of mediation or ombudsman, it’s to facilitate disputes so that citizens or organizations get access to records. It’s not about getting fines or punishing the government or getting huge attorney-fee awards.”
Requesters worry that HB 17-1177 will let government entities drag out the CORA process, if they want, because the bill doesn’t specify a timeline for bringing mediation. It also doesn’t set any limits on the cost of participating in mediation, only stating that requesters and custodians would split the cost evenly.
Although the bill would penalize both sides for not participating in mediation, Perl said the measure ignores the reality that records requesters and records custodians are not on equal footing when a dispute arises. Unlike the government, she said, “the citizen has no access to the records, no access to the attorney general or another government attorney, no power to negotiate … The custodian is holding all the cards.”
If a requester doesn’t participate in mediation but prevails in a lawsuit, HB 17-1177 would limit the amount of court costs and attorney fees that he or she can be awarded. It also establishes a penalty for records custodians who refuse to mediate and end up losing in court.
If the parties mediate but can’t resolve a dispute without court action, the bill would entitle a prevailing requester to mediation costs, court costs and attorney fees. But if, after a failed mediation, a court finds that a denial of records was proper, the records custodian could be awarded court costs and reasonable attorney fees.
The proposal also bars the awarding of court costs and attorney fees to records requesters in any action initiated by a custodian who claims that disclosure would “cause substantial injury to the public interest.”
Wist said both parties “should have some skin in the game.” But Steve Zansberg, an attorney who represents the press and broadcasters associations, said the bill “imposes significant penalties on records requesters who do end up in court, whether after mediating or not, that effectively deny citizens their right to challenge records denials without having to mortgage their homes.”
Russell Weisfield, an open-government advocate who sued Arvada in 2014 over the city council’s use of secret ballots, said he never would have brought that Sunshine Law case if he risked being held liable for the government’s legal costs. (Under both the Sunshine Law and CORA, as currently written, governments can recover court costs and attorney fees only if a lawsuit is found to be “frivolous, vexatious or groundless.”)
“The potential costs would have been more than overwhelming!” Weisfield wrote in an email to Wist and the CFOIC. “… Faced with such a possible fate, I would have instead not challenged the government and sued.
“In other words, this bill would have the effect of making government more opaque, not transparent.”
Zansberg, who also serves as CFOIC president, said both media associations appreciate the bill sponsors’ commitment to creating “another path for resolving CORA disputes and we are continuing to discuss possible alternatives with them.”
Although the associations can’t support HB 17-117 as introduced, he said they “fully support efforts to facilitate alternative means to quickly and cheaply resolve public records disputes so ordinary citizens need not hire a lawyer to go up against the Colorado attorney general or a county attorney in court.”
Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said her organization also would like to see ways to resolve CORA disputes without litigation. But HB 17-1177, she said, “will make it more difficult to access public records, the opposite of what we should be trying to achieve.”
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Thursday in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, but it likely will be delayed to give the sponsors more time to work on possible amendments.
Over the last seven years, the number of dead standing trees in Colorado forests increased almost 30 percent, to an estimated 834 million trees – or nearly one in every 14 standing trees. And this trend of increasing tree mortality – which is most observable in spruce-fir and lodgepole pine forests impacted by bark beetles – may result in forests conducive to large, intense wildfires like the 2016 Beaver Creek Fire that burned through beetle-kill timber northwest of Walden.
The 2016 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests distributed today ... at the State Capitol, highlighted this and other observed forest trends for the state. The theme of this year’s report is “Fire and Water,” focusing on how wildfires and unhealthy forest conditions impact human populations, water supplies and forested environments.
“When so many trees die and large wildfires follow, our forests quickly turn from a carbon sink into a carbon source,” said Mike Lester, State Forester and Director of the CSFS. “Beyond the implications for our atmosphere, forests in poor health have implications for our water supplies, public safety, wildlife and recreation opportunities.”
Highlights from this year’s report include:
· Colorado’s decades-long mountain pine beetle epidemic resulted in almost 3.4 million acres with some degree of tree mortality; an ongoing spruce beetle epidemic has thus far resulted in 1.7 million impacted acres.
· Approximately 80 percent of the state’s population relies on forested watersheds for municipal water supplies.
· Risks ranging from severe wildfires and insect infestations to long-term droughts are likely to be amplified in the future, as climate model projections predict statewide warming between 2.5 F and 6.5 F by 2050.
“With increasing changes in our forests, now is the time for determining how we will manage for projected future conditions,” said Lester. He says that actions the CSFS is taking now to address these threats include forest management efforts focused on watershed protection and reducing wildfire risk; providing seedling trees for restoration efforts; wood utilization and marketing; and insect and disease detection, surveys and response.
Much of what the CSFS accomplishes is through key partnerships with other agencies and organizations, including those with the U.S. Forest Service, Denver Water, the Northern Water Conservancy District and Colorado Springs Utilities. The agency also offers or assists with many programs and resources for communities working to become fire-adapted, including Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs), Firewise Communities/USA® and the online Colorado Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal.
Each year, forest health reports provide information to the Colorado General Assembly and residents of Colorado about the health and condition of forests across the state, including recent data, figures and maps. Information for the reports is derived from an annual aerial forest health survey by the CSFS and the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, as well as field inspections, CSFS contacts with forest landowners and special surveys.
The Fourth Judicial District Nominating Commission will meet March 14, 2017, at the El Paso County Judicial Building to interview and select nominees for appointment by the governor to the office of county judge for El Paso County. The vacancy will be created by the retirement of the Hon. Jonathan L. Walker, effective Feb. 15, 2017.
To be eligible, the applicant must be a qualified elector of El Paso County at the time of investiture and must have been admitted to the practice of law in Colorado. The current annual salary for this position is $152,466. The initial term of office of a county judge is a provisional term of two years; thereafter, the incumbent county judge, if approved by the voters, has a term of four years.
Application forms are available from the office of the ex officio chair of the nominating commission, Justice William W. Hood III, 2 E. 14th Ave., Denver, CO 80203; and the office of the district administrator, Danny Davis, 270 S. Tejon St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903. Applications also are available on the court’s home page at http://www.courts.state.co.us/Careers/Judge.cfm
The original, signed application and an identical copy stored as a PDF must be filed with the ex officio chair no later than Feb. 27, 2017. Late applications will not be considered. Any person wishing to suggest a candidate to fill the vacancy may do so by letter to be submitted to any member of the nominating commission, with a copy to the ex officio chair, no later than Feb. 21, 2017.
The members of the nominating commission for the Fourth Judicial District are: Jack Donley, Larry Gaddis, Beth Lieberman, Juan Moreno, and Mary Linden, all of Colorado Springs; and Daniel Nicholson and Philip Mella, of Woodland Park.
Pursuant to Rule 34 of the Colorado Rules of Judicial Discipline (“Colo. R.J.D.) and based upon his consent, on November 8, 2016, El Paso County Judge Jonathan L. Walker was temporarily suspended with pay pending the outcome of the preliminary investigation and related formal proceedings related to this matter.
A Statement of Charges was filed on November 23, 2016. Judge Walker filed an Answer to the Statement of Charges on December 17, 2016. A hearing with three special masters was set for February 27, 2017 through March 1, 2017. The Statement of Charges and Answer asserted the following summarized claims and defenses:
a. The Judge engaged in undignified and disrespectful conduct, including harassment, toward three female Judicial employees, in violation of Canon Rules 1.2 (promoting confidence in the judiciary), 2.3 (bias, prejudice and harassment), and 2.8 (undignified conduct toward court staff). The Judge denied these allegations, asserting that his actions were misconstrued and that one staff member’s allegations were in response to a Judicial Branch evaluation of the staff member’s performance issues.
b. The Judge retaliated against another Judicial staff member once he learned that the staff member had been interviewed as part of an investigation into his conduct in violation of Canon Rule 2.16(B) (prohibition of retaliation) and 2.8(B) (undignified conduct toward court staff). The Judge denied these allegations, asserting he and this staff member did not get along and the staff member was a poor performer.
c. The Judge improperly modified plea agreements in a number of cases without informing the parties, violating his duty to promote confidence in the judiciary and avoid the appearance of impropriety and unfairness, in violation of Canon Rule 1.2 (promoting confidence in the judiciary) and 2.2 (impartiality and fairness). The Judge admitted that he modified plea agreements but asserted that his modification was lawful.
d. The Judge failed to disqualify himself from cases where his personal attorney was representing a litigant, in violation of Canon Rule 2.11 (disqualification). The Judge denied these allegations, asserting that he instructed a staff member to place his attorney on the recusal list and the staff member failed to do so without advising him. On the two occasions that his personal attorney appeared in his courtroom, the Judge asserted that he acted in conformance with his duty to disqualify himself.
Because Judge Walker has agreed to retire from the bench effective February 15, 2017, the Commission requested the dismissal of the proceedings pending against him. On February 9, 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court approved the recommendation of the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline for the termination of disciplinary proceedings involving Judge Walker.
The Court ordered that the conclusion of these proceedings should be made public. The Commission's records in other respects remain confidential.
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