The city of Colorado Springs and Monument resident Leslie Weise are once more engaging in a legal battle. Weise filed a notice earlier this month to sue the city of Colorado Springs for more than $1 million.
The original dispute started nearly two years ago, when Weise sought to force Colorado Springs Utilities to release the results of a study by consultant AECOM that used computer modeling to determine whether sulfur dioxide emissions from the downtown, coal-fired Martin Drake 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.
Weise had charged CSU and city councilors who serve as its board of directors with deliberately withholding from the public essential information about dangerous pollutants emitted from Drake’s smokestacks, and she dismissed CSU’s claim of attorney-client privilege as a smokescreen.
Things came to a head when the court inadvertently sent Weise a copy of the AECOM report, which she said she read, but did not share, copy or retain. She did summarize its contents to a reporter, believing, she said, that she was not legally enjoined from doing so. 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.
The two cases were dismissed, but on April 3, Weise submitted a Colorado Open Records Act request to the city, asking for an “accounting of city time and expenses pertaining to Leslie Weise.”
She found city attorneys had billed 32 post-dismissal hours on matters pertaining to her.
Her CORA request found attorneys representing Colorado Springs Utilities and the city had filed complaints against her in New York and possibly other jurisdictions, apparently seeking to have Weise 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.
Utilities Board Vice-Chairperson Andy Pico, who served as chairperson when the board considered matters pertaining to Weise, refused to comment on the matter.
Weise said the complaints were an attempt by CSU and the city to not only deter her from pursuing further legal actions against the city, but as defamatory acts of retaliation. She hired Denver civil rights 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…”
The 11-page complaint prepared by Lane cites numerous allegedly defamatory statements by Utilities board members and executives.
In a lengthy statement released last week, 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.”
City Council President Richard Skorman, who was elected to council and his leadership position in April, said that he’s “not happy” with the city’s earlier 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 would not say whether council might revisit the decision.
Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, who was a Utilities board member when the matter was considered, refused to comment.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs Business Journal filed an open-records request with the city government as well as Colorado Springs Utilities, asking for “any recordings, videos or minutes” of the closed Utilities Board meeting where the decision to file complaints pertaining to Weise was made.
In the CORA request, CSBJ stated that “… disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of these Utility Board policy directives.”
But even if the city and CSU deny the request, it’s possible that details of the meeting will be disclosed if the matter is heard in federal court.
“We’re putting together a letter to the city suggesting settlement talks,” Lane said. “If they aren’t interested, we’ll go to federal court. We also want to get that [AECOM] report released.”
Lane cited the Pentagon Papers case in support of Weise.
In that famous 1971 case, the Supreme Court blocked the government from preventing The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing a lengthy Department of Defense study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967. By a 6-3 margin, the court denied prior restraint.
“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government,” wrote Justice Hugo Black at the time. n CSBJ