Steamboat Springs Lawsuits filed earlier this month by the Routt County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Gary Wall against each other and the Steamboat Pilot & Today were dismissed by a judge last week.
The lawsuits had sought a court determination as to whether the county or the Sheriff's Office is required to release copies of a disputed invoice for $6,700 in legal services provided by Ralph A. Cantafio, who has acted as legal counsel for Wall in his ongoing disputes with the commissioners.
The decision, filed last week by Judge Phillip Roan, states "there is no justiciable controversy before this court" and dismissed the suits for "lack of jurisdiction."
On Dec. 8, newspaper attorneys filed a notice of nonappearance, informing the court that the Steamboat Pilot & Today, parent company WorldWest LLC, and the reporter named in the suit would not participate in the court proceedings and declined to protest the refusal of the county and the Sheriff's Office to provide copies of the invoice.
The Pilot & Today's court filing indicated that the newspaper took the position that the lawsuits were unjustified and unnecessary.
According to the Colorado Open Records Act, a records custodian can seek the court's guidance only when the custodian is unable to determine whether a public record should be disclosed. In this particular case, newspaper attorneys argued, the Sheriff's Office and the commissioners already had denied access to the legal invoice, meaning there was no issue left for the court to decide.
"This court may not issue advisory opinions, which is, in the absence of legal controversy, what both applicants are seeking," Roan wrote in his decision to dismiss the lawsuits.
The Pilot & Today submitted requests for the legal invoice under the Colorado Open Records Act on Nov. 25.
The disputed legal services performed by Cantafio's office are thought to involve former Sheriff John Warner and former Deputy Lance Eldridge. Eldridge delivered damaging testimony against Wall in the July trial that led to the sheriff's conviction for driving while ability impaired. Eldridge resigned from the Sheriff's Office the same day he testified, and two days later, he said he felt he "had no choice" but to resign and that the decision was related to his testimony.
In addition to the disputed $6,700, Routt County taxpayers have paid Cantafio's office nearly $30,000 this year for Sheriff's Office legal services, not including the work that went into this latest lawsuit.