Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall might have to represent himself in a civil suit with a law firm and the county commissioners after the sheriff found that no law firms were willing to represent him, he said in court Tuesday.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners, The Law Offices of Ralph A. Cantafio and Wall are involved in a series of claims and counterclaims based around legal fees Wall accrued in a dispute with commissioners about furloughs.
Wall hired the outside lawyer to gain advice about how he could fight the 10 percent countywide pay cut and the furloughs, but commissioners, citing state statute, decided they would not allow him to use county funds to pay for the fees. After they sent a letter stating their position to Wall and Cantafio, bills continued to pile up for about $13,000, and they increased to $16,000 by the time the case went before a judge. The fee continues to accrue interest, Cantafio firm attorney Reed Morris said.
County Attorney John Merrill said the county first filed a claim with the court, and a judge urged Cantafio to file suit against the sheriff to claim its fee. The law office filed against the Routt County Sheriff’s Office instead of Wall as an individual and then the Sheriff’s Office filed a cross-claim against the county commissioners to force them to pay the bill. In response, Merrill, acting for the commissioners, filed yet another cross-claim that also included Wall as an individual.
From that web, Wall now will have to either hire a private attorney or represent himself. He said law firms are unwilling to represent him because they are not sure how they would be paid, and he doesn’t have the money to pay the attorneys fees himself.
Wall said he should be allowed to pay the bill from the annual line-item budget for legal fees, and he had about $28,000 in the budget for the year. Merrill said the county is looking to revised statute 30-2-104. In the annotations of that law, it states that the county commissioners have the authority to set salaries. It also states that in the case of litigation about compensation or classification, the costs of the litigation instituted by an elected official shall be paid out of the county general fund.
Wall was involved in litigation regarding the furloughs, however.
Wall opposed the furloughs because he said the department could not adequately provide for public safety, and he said he had questions about the budgeting process.
Merrill said the county paid and continues to pay other legal fees that directly relate to the running of the office, including legal advice about how to serve documents and to defend against any claims against the Sheriff’s Office.
“If the same situation came up tomorrow, I would have to do the same thing,” Wall said.
Lawyers in the case next will convene before a judge Jan. 7, but the case and possible trial could last for months.