Wall, county spar over fees

Commissioners want details about legal bill; sheriff refuses

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By the numbers

Amount Routt County has paid to The Law Offices of Ralph A. Cantafio for Sheriff's Office legal services this year:

January, $0

February, $0

March, $4,040.50

April, $0

May, $9,478.87

June, $1,740

July, $4,545.25

August, $6,838.46

September, $2,284.92

October, $825

Total, $29,753

The Routt County Commissioners want more information before they will pay a $6,700 legal bill forwarded to them by the Routt County Sheriff's Office. But Sheriff Gary Wall has refused, claiming that providing the information would force him to relinquish his attorney-client privilege and "jeopardize the sovereignty of my office."

The disputed legal services - performed by The Law Offices of Ralph A. Cantafio on behalf of Wall - 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 as his testimony and two days later said that 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 already have paid Cantafio's office nearly $30,000 this year for Sheriff's Office legal services.

Cantafio's work for Wall is not related to the sheriff's criminal trial. Steamboat Springs attorney Ron Smith represented Wall in that trial.

In an Oct. 6 letter to Wall, the commissioners wrote they were concerned with a Sept. 5 invoice from Cantafio because "the billing indicates most of the work done was in connection with an internal affairs investigation and possible criminal charges." In the case of an internal affairs investigation, commissioners want to know why the investigation was not handled within the Sheriff's Office. In the case of criminal charges, they wonder why the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office was not used.

"Assuming the legal counsel would be paid for by taxpayers, it would be for official - not personal - business," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said Monday.

In a Nov. 13 letter to Wall, Cantafio wrote that the commissioners' request for a justification "is nothing more than a disregarding of the tradition of the attorney-client privilege."

Commissioner Doug Monger said Monday that he disagrees and that the county simply wants enough information about the purpose of the legal services to justify their payment by taxpayers.

Neither the county nor Wall would provide a copy of the disputed invoice. The Steamboat Pilot & Today submitted records requests for the invoice under the Colorado Open Records Act on Tuesday.

It appears that at least Eldridge, and possibly Warner, are specifically named in the invoice. Both men have been mentioned in comments and correspondence.

"(The commissioners) singled it out because it was stuff regarding Eldridge they were wanting to look at," Wall said Monday.

An Oct. 20 letter from the commissioners to Wall mentions Warner: "Contrary to Mr. Cantafio's assertion, we believe that most of the time billed in the Sept. 5 billing clearly relates to either the internal affairs investigation of a former employee or possible criminal charges, presumably against that former employee or, as was suggested by your attorney to John Warner, against Mr. Warner."

On Monday, Wall emphatically denied rumors that he plans to sue the former sheriff or the former deputy who testified against him. Asked whether criminal charges might be brought against either of the two, Wall said, "I'm not going to respond to anything else."

The sheriff offered no other information regarding the legal services, citing his attorney-client privilege and claiming it involves a personnel matter.

"This is attorney-client privilege stuff, and I can't start talking about it. It was something I felt important to do," Wall said. "Absolutely nothing was done inappropriately."

When reached on his cell phone Monday, Eldridge said he could not comment. Warner was unreachable.

Separate services

The $30,000 the county has paid to Cantafio this year is separate from the $344,000 budgeted in 2008 for the Routt County Attorney's Office.

The county attorney's office typically provides legal services for all county departments. But Wall's frequent quarrels with the county commissioners led them last year to advise Wall to seek his own legal counsel. The county attorney ultimately represents the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

"There's a conflict of interest," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Monday.

Wall said he assumed the separate legal counsel he obtained would be his own.

"They're trying to force me to relinquish my attorney-client privilege over a bill," Wall said. "They're the ones who told me to get my own legal counsel, and now they're questioning something I had my legal counsel do. : I don't know why this is an issue."

County Attorney John Merrill said he is not providing the disputed invoice because Wall and Cantafio have since claimed there was an inadvertent waiver of attorney-client privilege.

"The sheriff and his attorney have taken the position that it was privileged information," Merrill said Monday. "If the attorney had known that Gary was going to send a copy to the county, he would have redacted it."

Although he thinks the county commissioners have a right to see the invoice to ensure the proper use of public money, Merrill said he would not release it to anyone else without Wall's permission.

"My concern is if we release it for some other purpose he could take the position that we violated his attorney-client privilege," Merrill said.

Comments

steamboatcrazy 5 years, 12 months ago

I am so tired of Gary Wall and his crap. I hope all of you who voted him into office are happy. It's been one thing after another. Can't wait until the next election.

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justice4all 6 years ago

If this is truely attorney-client priviledge, so be it. If the county is the client, then the county commissioners and "we the people" are the clients and have a right to know. If Gary Wall is the client, he should pay his bills like all the rest of have to do.

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bubba 6 years ago

I would have to agree. If the taxpayers are paying for the services, then they are the client, so there is no attorney-client privilege. If the taxpayer does not have a right to know what is being paid for, then we are not the client, and should not be paying.

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JLM 5 years, 12 months ago

Wht a bunch of baloney!

Attorney-client "privilege" is just that a privilege, it is not an absolute prohibition and it can be and is routinely waived by persons who may benefit from the waiver. This is a classic example where a party requires an explanation of an invoice from an attorney in order to obtain payment.

The waiver is often given with an assurance that such a singular waiver does not set a precedent for the demand of future waivers.

It would not be an unreasonable position for a legal scholar to take that the simple writing of an invoice for legal services rendered has absolutely no legal work product implications whatsoever and since it is authored by an attorney to seek payment is not even truly "legal" work product. It is simply an administrative or accounting function and is not a "legal" conversation or advice between a client and his counsel; and, is therefore beyond the scope of the privilege.

The privilege is intended to protect pertinent conversations between clients and their counsel about a contested legal matter or advice the divulging of which would not otherwise serve the interests of the client. Shooting the breeze about the Colorado v C State football game is not "protected" conversation.

Explaining a billing does not require a party to reveal what legal advice he was given.

Legal bills are routinely reviewed by courts in open court for an explanation of the "reasonableness" and "necessity" of the charges when, in particular, the court is considering awarding legal fees and costs to a party who has prevailed in a legal skirmish and such charges are appropriate; or, in a contractual dispute which provides for the award of legal fees and costs as part of the contract.

It is perfectly reasonable for a City Council or County Commission to take up such matters in executive session to preserve any sensitivities, if they so desire.

There is a further very technical argument to be made that the payer of legal fees is actually the "client" though I would think this is a pretty fine point to put on this matter.

In any event, this is pretty routine stuff --- happens all the time --- and is pretty dopey. It's either appropriately reimburseable by the County or it is not and the burden is on the individual seeking reimbursement.

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nmypinon 5 years, 12 months ago

Yeah what is up with waiting? The last I had heard was that there was going to be a recall & that Mr.Rogers was going to run for SHERIFF.

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routtco 5 years, 12 months ago

We need change soon. But, Mr. Rogers is not attempting a recall because of lack of support for getting a committee together. He was gaining support and when it came down to moving forward with the process he was left standing with one other person. I saw alot of support for the recall and signing the petition but nobody wanted to step up and help. Mr. Rogers seemed to want to work for the people and turn the department into a professional organization, unlike Gary. Hopefully we see him in a couple of years or someone who cares about the department and citizens like he seems to. Next election: Do your homework before you vote!! Regardless of who you vote for.

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aichempty 5 years, 12 months ago

The only thing worse since Wall took over is that a few people who used to be RCSO employees are now doing something else.

When a person calls the RCSO for help now, they get it. They assist motorists. They mediate disputes between neighbors. They arrest drug traffickers.

Ralph Cantafio wouldn't be involved in anything that was illegal or an abuse by a public official.

Give Sheriff Wall some time, and you're going to see things get better. Might even see some more folks put in the jailhouse.

There's a reason why nobody stood with Wall's declared opponent when it came to a recall move. The recall has no real support.

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Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 12 months ago

Walls had 2yrs. When is it enough time? aich is for a Liberal Sheriff??? Egads!! LOL!

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aichempty 5 years, 12 months ago

He's done plenty in two years. More effective than ACET, much more community service centered than Warner, and I don't hear anybody complaining about crime increasing, more kids taking drugs, etc., than under Warner.

Warner had officers doing visible things that only gave lip service to police work. Take away DARE, and elder watch, and GRAMNET and there's no difference to be seen except that RCSO is helping people instead of calling a wrecker for them, they're busting drug rings, and maybe people will get used to being on the same side as the cops instead of left to hang out to dry or hire a lawyer.

My conservative views are all regarding personal responsibility and self support, Matthew. The more you can take care of your own needs, the more freedom you have. Waiting for other people to bail you out or pay your bills or give you a house just makes you someone without any power over your own fate. If liberals are going to protect me from religious zealots, great. Just make sure it's against all the zealots, not just the Christians.

When did liberals stop being about personal freedom, and become anti-conservatives? Shouldn't a real liberal be willing to let you be conservative if that's what you choose?

And conservatives ought to be free to keep to themselves and live like a bunch of stuffy Gusses without having gay rights, common law relationships and all the other liberal causes forced on them.

A true liberal ought to be able to allow others to live, and let live. Being anti-conservative is just as bad as being conservative.

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Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 12 months ago

"He's done plenty in two years. More effective than ACET, much more community service centered than Warner, and I don't hear anybody complaining about crime increasing, more kids taking drugs, etc., than under Warner."

Plenty? I remember 2 positive things: the Cisneros standoff and the big pot bust. I give props to the RCSO for both those- definitely due. Anything else? Not that I recall or can find. ACET may not have had big motherlode find like Wall, who only got a call- there was no previous investigation since it was the propety owner who called. Notice how nothing else has been heard on this so far, too. I, personally, haven't heard where this is or where it's going. Had GRAMNET still been functioning (but isn't since our community-minded Sheriff got rid of those funds...and evidently spent it somewhere else that I can only guess, considering most of the budget seems to be legal defense) they'd have most likely been on the scene. ACET has had more busts than Wall when it comes to that kind of stuff, though. Unless you can provide the numbers to say otherwise, # of bust compared to $ total, I'll put my money on ACET.

And where have you seen the RCSO helping people out of ditches? Could have sworn I haven't seen tow cables attached yet. Anyone else seen them?

"Waiting for other people to bail you out or pay your bills or give you a house just makes you someone without any power over your own fate."

Would that statement, then, also pertain to going over-budget (What exactly is causing the budget to be blown???) and asking the RC Commissioners for even more money? Sounds like "bailout" again. (Does Wall work for GM???) If he's community-minded, maybe he should have a car wash or bake sale to help raise money from the community, for the community. Actually, I think that's a pretty good idea!

"When did liberals stop being about personal freedom, and become anti-conservatives? Shouldn't a real liberal be willing to let you be conservative if that's what you choose?"

Nobody forces anyone to be liberal or conservative until one or the other puts judges on the bench. (A Conservative would also "force" women to not be allowed an abortion in basically any circumcstance. Ask Palin about that one.)

So...back to point- what else has Wall done for the Community? You said since he took away DARE & ElderWatch: now there's community-minded for you- give up on kids and seniors just to pull people out of ditches...whenever the winches come in.

(And who besides possibly Wall was suing Warner? Would that be id04sp? He's the one who always seemed to have a beef with Warner. Hi id!! LOL!

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aichempty 5 years, 12 months ago

Matthew,

You need to get out more.

Once it gets to a judge, it's too late anyway.

One of Wall's deputies solved a problem I had with a neighbor with one telephone call. I'm assuming that elders with problems would get the same treatment I did, and that actually locking up drug dealers does a lot more than the DARE car ever did except take a deputy off patrol duty.

ACET got better when RCSO pulled out. RCSO started busting drug traffickers after Wall took over. Neither agency was doing any good at all when Warner was in office. A suspicious person would think that someone in RCSO was either tipping off the traffickers, or protecting them. Could this be why Wall fired everybody? I guess we'll never know, but "they" know.

Sure, the Stagecoach bust was in response to a tip, but at least they followed up the tip. I gave one of Warner's deputies evidence of money laundering and drug dealing one day, in person, and she told me, "Well, it's awfully hard to prove." Yeah, sure is, when you don't bother to act on the tip and actually do an investigation.

I hope you never need help from RCSO, but if you do, I'm confident you'll get it.

By the way, you don't need a winch to haul a car out of a ditch. A nylon tow strap works just great. I've done it a bunch of times and it takes about 2 or 3 minutes. Most cars can back out of a ditch, or pull ahead, if you just hook up and give them a little tug to keep them from sliding down instead of driving out. Set up about a 30 degree angle and tell them to follow you when you pull. Sometimes a winch is required, but if you need a winch, you probably need a wrecker.

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Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 12 months ago

So? I called the RCSO when Warner was sheriff and never had a problem getting help before. That's nothing new or spectacularly different.

And I sure don't recall seeing drug traffickers getting locked up thanks to just the RCSO. The 1 bust is the only one I recall except for the occassional stop where a person had the equivalent of a couple joints (or as usually, legally stated in the paper as "Less than 1 ounce.").

The RCSO will always have my support even if it wavers for the management for that office.

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aichempty 5 years, 12 months ago

The "so" part is this;

RCSO will assist with controversies among neighbors which they used to blow off as "a civil matter." Riding snowmobiles on private property and privately maintained county roads is one of the big ones where Warner's folks wouldn't even take a complaint.

When GRAMNET was around, they made no drug busts in Routt County that I can recall. Wall's RCSO has at least made one, even with a tip from a citizen to help. Don't you get it? There were plenty of drugs around, but neither RCSO or GRAMNET was catching traffickers in Routt County. At least in the most recent case, RCSO did something with the information and made an arrest.

There is nothing worse than a law enforcement agency that won't enforce the law. We citizens have nowhere else to turn when that happens. Sure, Warner's guys would come out for gunfire, breach of a restraining order, physical violence and the like, but they ignored the small things that are still unlawful and impact ordinary people in their homes and neighborhoods. Maybe the kid who would have broken into your house while you're at work will think twice about it after having a deputy come to the front door to give a warning for riding a snowmobile on your property. Visible community policing is a deterrent to some people, and Wall's deputies are doing it.

Let's face it. There are many in our community who need adult supervision. This isn't the first place I've lived where people would run over their neighbors' rights until somebody stopped them. Just because you never found a need to call the cops to complain about something like trespassing or noise from a neighbor, that doesn't mean a lot of others haven't. Wall's people take the action allowed by law. Warner's told you to hire a lawyer. Maybe doing their jobs is the reason the RCSO needs more money for hours worked and miles driven. I like that much better than having the sheriff instruct his deputies to tell people "hire a lawyer" to save gas money for the county.

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steamboatcrazy 5 years, 11 months ago

I don't believe the issue is the employee'e of the RCSO, they will do there jobs and they will do them well.

The issue is the sheriff. Look at all of the issues............DUI, Budget, constant infighting, legal issues and so on. I would like to know historic numbers spent on legal fee's. Can't the RCSO run as a professional organization from the top down as opposed to the bottom up?

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Mary Stanton 5 years, 11 months ago

I really amazes me how so many of you who don't know half of the facts (or more) involved in this situation are so supremely knowledgeable about what it takes to bring our Sheriff's Department up to present day standards. And to be able to do it all for FREE, that surely would have been something to see, had you put your name into the running for Sheriff yourself. No you never heard about any of this trouble when Warner was in office because he would never stand up to Nancy and call bull. Just because Gary doesn't bow to the gospel of the High and Mighty sole decision of Nancy Stahoviak's personal issues agains Gary (much like most of yours) doesn't mean he is making trouble, it says that he is willing to stand up and fight to have his deputies armed with equipment they need to do their job. You all talk as if he wants all these toys for himself to play with. They are NOT going on private vehicles, they are going on deputy vehicles, the sleds (as you can see as you pass by) are kept at the S.O., not at Gary's house. That way when a search is needed for a lost individual the deputies job doesn't have to end at the trail head, which I'm sure you would complain about too if given the opportunity. Because no matter what Gary EVER does, it will ALWAYS be wrong in your minds. Otherwise you wouldn't have anything to talk about.

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aichempty 5 years, 11 months ago

steamy,

No, not all of us. I know how it was under Warner, and it's a lot better now. The difference is like suddenly having a sheriff where none existed before IF you were one of the people who had problems that were simply ignored by the old RCSO.

A lot of people who lost out when Wall took over are bitter, but they can just deal with it.

I give Sheriff Wall a lot of credit for hitching up his drawers and pushing ahead in spite of it all, including the DUI mess. As Gunnery Sergeant Hartman said in "Full Metal Jacket," . . . "he's got guts, and sometimes guts is enough."

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