City Hall lawsuits few and far between | AspenTimes.com

City Hall lawsuits few and far between

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN In the world of litigation, it’s been a relatively quiet year for City Hall.There are only six active lawsuits involving the city, which City Attorney John Worcester acknowledged is low. Two of them are wrongful-termination suits by female former employees claiming that the Aspen Police Department fired them because of gender.The latest lawsuit was from Melinda Calvano, who claims she was wrongfully fired in July 2006 because she is a woman, and in retaliation for complaining about harassment on the job. Aspen police said her firing was the result of violating policy because she used a Taser on an elderly woman. The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Pitkin County District Court, comes after an arbitrator ruled in July that the city fired Calvano legitimately because she violated the use-of-force policy.In June 2006, Calvano confronted Carol Alexy – then a 63-year-old homeless woman – whom Calvano suspected of stealing a sweater from The Thrift Store’s drop box. Calvano used a stun gun to zap Alexy, who was later treated at Aspen Valley Hospital and released. Calvano is involved in another lawsuit, which Brownlyn Anglin filed last year in Federal District Court, suing City Hall, a number of Aspen police officers, as well as Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies.Anglin alleges that she was forcibly injected with a tranquilizer to prevent her from pounding on a door at the Pitkin County Jail. The complaint alleges many civil-rights claims. Outside council is representing Calvano in that case for her involvement the night of Anglin’s arrest.Police records describe Anglin as drunk, violent and out of control on an already busy night at the jail after her arrest Dec. 11, 2004.The parties involved in the Anglin lawsuit have engaged in pretrial discovery, including depositions. City Attorney John Worcester said he has filed a motion for summary judgment in an effort to get the case dismissed. City Hall is awaiting a decision by the court.City representatives are confident they will prevail in the case, according to a letter from McMahon and Associates LLC, City Hall’s auditor, which each year identifies pending and threatening litigation that might cost taxpayers money. Kimberly Hay filed the second wrongful-termination lawsuit stems against City Hall in March 2005. Hay filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission alleging that she was fired as a community safety officer because she is a woman. The commission denied her claim, which prompted Hay to file a lawsuit in District Court. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in July that the city of Aspen is immune to discrimination claims. A district court judge ruled in May 2005 that Hay could sue the city but not the Aspen Police Department. The city appealed that ruling, which led to the Court of Appeals decision. Hay has the right to appeal the high court’s decision, but it’s unknown whether she will. She demands a jury trial and seeks money for damages and attorney costs. Aspen police maintain that Hay was fired for insubordination and poor job performance.City Hall has been the subject of three other wrongful-termination suits since 1999. Those cases have been settled out of court.As far as claims that relate to accidents, which lawyers term “slip-and-fall” cases, City Hall faces only one such type lawsuit. It was filed in 2006 by R. Rosenbaum, who was thrown through the Plexiglas windshield of a cart at the Aspen Golf Course. Rosenbaum was the passenger in the cart when his friend drove it into a ditch on the 12th hole.The complaint in state court alleges that the city was negligent in maintaining the golf course. Rosenbaum seeks monetary damages for injuries. The state court recently dismissed the case, and Rosenbaum has appealed the decision.Oftentimes, City Hall gets dragged into lawsuits involving neighborhood disputes. The case of Jesse Heath versus William Weiner and William Budinger is one of them. The lawsuit is primarily a dispute between neighbors over the use and maintenance of tennis courts in their condominium complex. City Hall was added as a defendant because of land-use approvals on the property. The case went to trial, and the city was dismissed.Judicial appeals and lawsuits over land-use decisions are another category City Hall finds itself defending against. That’s the case with Hyman Avenue Holdings LLC, which is suing City Hall over whether developer Peter Fornell has a right to initiate a proposed ordinance to be approved by voters that would allow him to build an automated parking garage in the city.Fornell filed the lawsuit in June 2004 and the case was transferred from one judge to another. A decision was expected in April 2006, but the case has yet to be resolved.City Hall recently settled with Hassen Dagher, who sued the city for $7,500 in small claims court, claiming that he lost profits when the city’s code enforcement officer red tagged his business, located in the Clark’s Market building.The officer was wrong in determining that Dagher’s fitness studio was not permitted in the Service/Commercial Zone District. “The city acknowledged it was wrong and paid him $300,” for the business application fee, Worcester said.The Denver-based law firm of Alperstein & Covell represents City Hall on all water-rights issues. The city is currently an applicant in three pending water court applications, which would allow Aspen to use reclaimed water from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District wastewater treatment plant for outdoor irrigation.City Hall is embroiled in two lawsuits that involve water issues on a local level. The first one involves the city’s rights to an easement that allows access to the Si Johnson Ditch on South Seventh Street but is currently blocked because of a home under construction there.Worcester said city workers must have access to the headgate of the ditch to clear and maintain it daily. The city was granted a preliminary injunction, so workers continue to have access to the easement. A trial is expected next year to determine the rights to the land of the city and the property owner, Westchester Investments.The second pending case involves a dispute between neighbors over the price and use of water service to their homes. Billy Ray Eubanks and Bonnie Jean Eubanks entered into a water services agreement in 1996 with the city, which outlined that the Eubankses paid some of the costs constructing the water main and would be able to recoup some of those costs from others who later connect to the main.Property owners, identified as Shadow Mountain LLC, protested the $43,000 charge to hook up to the water line. City Hall accepted the payment, is holding the money in perpetuity and asks the court to decide who should get it. It’s unknown when there will be a decision.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csackariason@aspentimes.com


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