Thursday, December 13, 2018

El Paso County wins $8,922 in court expenses, but fails to recover more

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2018 at 1:03 PM

click to enlarge Sheriff Bill Elder's hotel bill and those of others were denied as a legitimate expense in a recent federal lawsuit. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Sheriff Bill Elder's hotel bill and those of others were denied as a legitimate expense in a recent federal lawsuit.
El Paso County took the unusual step on Dec. 11 of announcing to the world in a news release that it was awarded costs in a lawsuit in which it prevailed over former sheriff's Sgt. John Huntz.

Huntz had alleged he was retaliated against with a job change and termination because his wife, Tiffany, had claimed she was sexually harassed by a commander.

After a five-day trial in August, the jury sided with Sheriff Bill Elder, meaning the county won and Huntz lost.

But the county doesn't mention in the release that it's quite common for costs such as witness fees, deposition fees and court filing fees to be automatically awarded to the prevailing party, at the expense of the losing party.

In this case, the county was awarded $8,922 for those expenses.

The county also failed to state in the news release that it actually had sought reimbursement for $18,565 in expenses, most of which was denied by the court clerk.

Besides seeking $1,912 in witness fees and $8,618 in costs associated with taking depositions, the county also sought $8,618 for travel expenses. That travel included $7,938 in hotel rooms for two attorneys, a paralegal and Elder, who testified one day but attended all five days of the trial, at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver in downtown Denver.

That's $259 per night for the five-day trial, although the case wrapped up on Friday, so it's unclear why a fifth night of lodging would be required. In any event, the county also sought reimbursement of $396.75 for each of those four people for the week, along with about $250 in mileage costs for all four and another $230 for each of the four for parking.

The court clerk disallowed all of the travel except for $85 for witness fee, parking and mileage for Elder, noting on the county's reimbursement request, "The Clerk declines to award defense counsel and staff's travel expenses for trial. As this is a Title VII employment discrimination suit — i.e., under federal question jurisdiction — ... attorney travel expenses are not awardable."

The county also tried to persuade the court to reimburse $1,600 for an expert witness fee, but the court clerk disallowed it, saying, "This is an expert witness fee, not awardable" under federal law.

In the release, Board of El Paso County Commissioners President Darryl Glenn, who's a lawyer, praised the court. “We’re very happy that the court ruled in favor of us in this matter," he said, though, as previously noted, the court did not rule in the county's favor on all the expenses for which it sought reimbursement.

Glenn also called the lawsuit "frivolous," although that label is a term of art in the legal world, and the Huntz lawsuit was not frivolous. A judge saw fit to allow the case to proceed to a jury trial, which makes it non-frivolous.

Without disclosing the nearly $10,000 in expenses denied by the court, County Attorney Amy Folsom said in the release, "We are entitled to all of these costs. The important thing to note is that the reimbursement will come out of the pocket of John Huntz himself."

True enough.

Huntz, through his attorney Ian Kalmanowitz, declined to comment as did Kalmanowitz.

Huntz had alleged he was transferred from his training officer post to night shift as payback after his wife reported being sexually harassed by a commander. His wife's claim was dismissed by a judge in September 2017. John Huntz eventually was fired after being on leave for eight months.

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