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By pocket veto (when a judge fails to enter a judgement in the required time period), Archuleta County and commissioner Clifford Lucero were awarded costs associated with a dismissed lawsuit originally filed by Bill Hudson in 2010.
Now, Hudson and attorney Matt Roane intend to appeal the costs awarded by the court, questioning the validity of invoices submitted by Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr on behalf of Lucero.
Hudson’s lawsuit aimed to gain access to a recording of a Sept. 1, 2010, executive session in which the BoCC met with a variety of parties related to a joint push for a grant that would allow area governmental agencies to increase their broadband capabilities.
Among those in attendance were representatives of an Internet company, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation, town, county and more.
Immediately following the executive session, the BoCC voted in favor of sending a letter of support for the grant, a letter that had been continued from a previous meeting in order for the executive session to be held.
On Sept. 2, 2010, Hudson requested from BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero a copy of the recording.
In Lucero’s stead, Starr responded, denying Hudson’s request and arguing that the executive session was held legally and prompting Hudson to file suit on Oct. 1 of the same year.
The case was dismissed in March 2011 and costs were awarded to the county and Lucero.
On Feb. 7, the parties attended a hearing for reconsideration in front of District Court Judge Gregory Lyman. Lyman had 60 days to rule following the Dec. 26 filing of the motion for reconsideration that triggered the hearing.
Among those costs awarded to the county is $2,329.76 for legal research — a fee both Roane and Starr agree is too high.
Starr stated in an interview with SUN staff that the amount was misleading and had not been fully paid by the county, but maintained that the county is entitled to receive the entire amount through the court’s order.
But, said Starr, “I think winning right is more important than winning.”
Starr said he had spoken to Roane shortly after the pocket veto during the week of March 4, with the idea that a fair settlement amount could be reached between the two parties to avoid having the case advance to the Court of Appeals.
On Wednesday, however, Roane told SUN staff, “Todd asked us for a settlement offer and we provided one,” adding that Starr did not respond to the offer and, “frankly, didn’t acknowledge it.”
That offer, Roane said, expired at the close of business on March 8.
Roane said the deadline was set in order to give Hudson time to make needed decisions about appealing the costs.
When asked why there was no response to the settlement, Starr stated that it, “was not worthy of my attention.”
Roane said Hudson intends to advance the case to the Court of Appeals, though a settlement is still available should the two parties choose to work together — something Roane stated would be more economical for both parties.
“There would seem to be a much more efficient solution, but that requires both sides to see eye-to-eye,” Roane said.
But, beyond a failed settlement attempt, Roane is also alleging that Starr created invoices for research costs accrued on Westlaw (a legal research platform) that Starr then submitted to the court as invoices from the company.
Roane said that, after the original judgement awarded costs to Lucero, he and Hudson submitted a records request to the county to obtain the invoices for the legal research.
Many of those invoices, Roane said, were not created by the research provider, but by Starr himself.
“That’s why we asked the judge to revisit his actual ruling,” Roane said, “in light of that subsequent evidence.”
Roane added that law exists in Colorado that prohibits reimbursing costs for research accrued on programs that are paid for on a monthly basis and allow unlimited use, explaining that it is difficult to provide a cost for specific research done.
“We suspect, unfortunately, that’s why Mr. Starr created these invoices,” Roane said.
Starr, however, stated that the reports were prepared by Thompson-West, the company behind Westlaw, and are for fair-market value of the services provided.
Starr said such invoices have been used in other cases previously.
Starr also maintains that there is no statutory law preventing him from using the cost of the research, but that case law exists that speaks against it. That case law, though, Starr said, leaves the discretion up to the judge.
Allegations aside, Hudson has approximately 45 days to file a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals in Denver.
“Mr. Hudson wants to appeal because we believe none of those research charges should have been awarded to Chairman Lucero,” Roane said. “Not one single penny.”
Starr stated that, should the case be appealed, the county would seek the full costs awarded by Lyman.