Zolines finance attorneys in protests
On one side, local resident Toni Kronberg shuffled papers and law books and made her case sans any legal representation.On the other, attorney Lance Coté represented the person who was protesting the referendum petition Kronberg helped circulate. The protester, Frank Peters, sat in the audience.Asked afterward if she felt outgunned, Kronberg said, “Just a little bit.”It was the second time in two months the firm of Klein, Coté & Edwards has fought citizen initiatives/referendum petitions on behalf of local citizens filing challenges. In both cases, the Zoline family was footing the bill in large part, if not entirely.Peters was involved in both protests; City Councilman-elect J.E. DeVilbiss signed on as a protester in the first protest. While both men said they felt strongly about the issues and were willing to attach their names to the fight, neither of them initiated the challenges, nor hired a lawyer to champion their cause. Instead, they said they knew attorney Herb Klein was seeking a protester.The Zolines, with a stake in the outcome of the protests, footed the legal bills.”I would say yes, we have been contributing to this,” said John Lifton, spokesman for the Zoline family. It’s possible the family has paid the entire bill for the firm’s services in the two protests, he said.Neither Lifton nor his wife, Pam Zoline, are registered electors in the city of Aspen, which a protester must be, Klein noted. DeVilbiss and Peters qualify.The petitions posed potential threats to the city’s Burlingame Ranch housing project – part of a joint development plan involving the city and the Zolines that includes both the worker housing and free-market homes on the Zolines’ Bar/X Ranch.”We’ve got eight years and a huge amount of money into the project at this point,” Lifton said. “It makes sense for us to spend money on public relations and on doing whatever is necessary to take these legal obstructions away.”But attorney Joe Edwards, a former Pitkin County commissioner who was on the losing side of last month’s protest hearing, contends the city has taken up the strategy of thwarting the citizenry’s right to put something before voters through the petition process. The city finds someone to lodge a protest, he claimed.”This tactic by the city has a huge chilling effect on the constitutional right of the citizens to initiate ordinances by a petition,” Edwards said in an e-mail to The Aspen Times.”The city did not recruit me to file that protest,” DeVilbiss countered. Peters, too, denied that the city played any role.”I can assure you that the city did not ask or encourage us to file the protest. These people had sufficient motivation on their own,” attorney Klein said in an e-mail.”Let me assure you the city hasn’t gone out and found anybody to protest,” said City Attorney John Worcester yesterday. “I take the initiative and referendum process very seriously. It’s set forth not only in the city charter but our state constitution.”
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