The city of Colorado Springs and Monument resident Leslie Weise are once more engaged in a legal battle. Weise filed a notice to sue the city of Colorado Springs for more than $1 million earlier this month.
The original dispute started nearly two years ago, when Weise sought to force Colorado Springs Utilities to release the results of a study by consultants AECOM that used computer modeling to determine whether sulfur dioxide emissions from the downtown Martin Drake coal-fired power plant exceeded regulatory standards.
Citing attorney-client confidentiality, CSU refused. The ensuing legal struggle continued until CSU and Weise agreed in March to drop lawsuits pending in the Court of Appeals, both of which were then dismissed.
At the time, Weise charged CSU and city councilors who serve as its board of directors with deliberately withholding essential information about dangerous pollutants emitted from Drake’s smokestacks from the public and dismissed CSU’s claim of attorney-client privilege as a smokescreen.
Things came to head when the court inadvertently sent Weise a copy of the AECOM report, she said, adding she read it, but did not share, copy or retain. Weise summarized its content to a reporter, and city attorneys accused her of unethical conduct, noting that as an attorney she should not have revealed any confidential information she had accidentally received from the court.
On April 3 she submitted a Colorado Open Records Act request to the city, asking for an “accounting of city time and expenses pertaining to Leslie Weise,” and she found city attorneys had billed 32 post-dismissal hours on matters pertaining to her.
Attorneys representing CSU and the city had filed complaints against Weise in at least one state, apparently seeking to have her reprimanded or even barred from practicing law. Weise confirmed that complaint(s) have been filed but, citing the confidentiality of such procedures, refused further comment.
Since no legal proceedings are involved, these complaints aren’t subject to CORA requests.
According to the American Bar Association: “Many jurisdictions have an office of disciplinary counsel that serves as the investigator and, if necessary, as prosecutor in matters of attorney discipline. The attorney disciplinary counsel is usually appointed by the state’s highest court. The appointed regulation or disciplinary counsel then appoints a deputy and/or the rest of the attorneys and office staff, within the parameters prescribed by the court and/or the bar. The attorneys typically have several years of experience practicing law. The office fields complaints and conducts initial investigations of the underlying allegations. The office then determines whether there are sufficient grounds to establish that an ethical rule provision has been violated. If such a determination is made, the office must decide whether formal or informal proceedings are appropriate. Formal proceedings can include a trial, which is akin to a civil proceeding. In such a proceeding, the attorney regulation counsel or disciplinary counsel represents the People of that state.”
Weise saw the complaints as an attempt by CSU and the city to not only deter her from pursuing further legal actions against the city, but as acts of retaliation. She hired Denver Attorney David Lane, who sent a Notice of Claim to CSU and the city on May 12.
Lane formally notified them that he will represent her in a lawsuit that will seek monetary damages for defamation under both state and federal statutes in an amount of at least $1.35 million.
“Ms. Weise will allege in her federal complaint that the defendants have retaliated against her for having engaged in speech protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Lane said. “These statements are violative of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and are actionable torts for libel, slander, and libel per se under Colorado law as well. The defendants have knowingly and recklessly made false, retaliatory and defamatory statements about Ms. Weise, a private person, including those constituting defamation per se, with malice and/or reckless disregard for the truth of the statements, by officials and employees of the City of Colorado Springs. City officials; and who have also knowingly made false statements concerning certain statements Ms. Weise made regarding air quality and public safety. The false and defamatory statements done in retaliation for her protected speech have caused harm to Ms. Weise’s professional reputation, and have also caused damages in the forms of emotional distress. The City’s retaliatory and illegal treatment of Ms. Weise is in violation of her First Amendment Constitutional Rights to free speech, intended to prevent her from speaking out about harmful levels of air pollution in Colorado Springs, and to block the public from learning the truth of important air quality information that is in the City’s possession.”
The 11-page complaint cites numerous allegedly defamatory statements by CSU board members and executives.
In a lengthy statement released Wednesday afternoon, Weise confirmed that she’s proceeding with the lawsuit.
“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind who has studied this matter, that if the Air Quality Study commissioned by Colorado Springs Utilities showed air quality in compliance with state and federal regulations for safe levels of SO2 pollution, it would already be made public in its entirety,” Weise said in an email. “Instead, the City has chosen to attack my credibility and now continues that attack on my professional livelihood, to desperately cover up its misdeeds of its knowledge and concealment of information showing unsafe air quality from the public.”
City Council President Richard Skorman said that he’s “not happy” with the city’s decision to file complaints against Weise.
“These decisions were made in closed session before I was on council,” he said. “Apparently, a majority of council supported them.”
Skorman did not say whether council might revisit the decision.
Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler would not comment.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to state Weise has filed a notice to sue.