Cacioppo earns look at disputed e-mails
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of recovered Eagle County School District e-mails will be available for inspection, but the timing remains in doubt.
District Judge Richard Hart ruled March 31 that the school district must make the e-mails available for inspection to the public, and specifically, Avon resident Michael Cacioppo. Hart’s ruling demanded the e-mail files and fragments be made available within three working days. Monday, the school district filed a motion for a temporary stay of Hart’s order, citing a need for the Eagle County School Board time to review the ruling at its regularly scheduled meeting of April 14.
“Without calling a special board meeting, it seemed fair for our board to hear the facts of the case and talk about it,” district Superintendent John Brendza said.
Cacioppo said he intends to file a motion today to compel the district to comply with Hart’s order.
“If we lose (the motion for a stay), we’ll make the records available,” Brendza said.
The district and Cacioppo have been embroiled in a dispute over the e-mails since 2002. In March of that year, someone at the district office produced a flyer encouraging a boycott of Cacioppo’s newspaper, Speakout! and its advertisers. That flyer was copied and sent out via interoffice mail to all district schools.
On March 19, then-superintendent Mel Preusser sent an e-mail to all employees stating, “As we announced on March 19, if you see any copies of the flyer in circulation, please destroy them, convey the act that the circulation is contrary to our policy… and that disciplinary action will be taken if an employee is involved in this action.”
Citing the state’s public records law, Cacioppo demanded to see any and all e-mails regarding a possible boycott of his business or advertisers, a demand that eventually wound up in court.
The school district purchased software to recover previously deleted e-mail files, and was able to retrieve all or parts of 8,000 files, some of which may be duplicates. A “keyword” search was then performed on the recovered files using the words “flyer,” “boycott,” “advertise,” “Speakout,” and “Cacioppo.”
After recovering the files and fragments, the school district then asked Cacioppo to pay nearly $1,700, the cost of recovering the material. Cacioppo refused, citing the provisions of the state’s open records law that require governments to make public records available for inspection. According to a transcript of the March 31 hearing, Hart noted that the school district sought an agreement with Cacioppo to pay for the recovery of the documents, an agreement Cacioppo refused.
As such, “There is no evidence of a contractual obligation (for Cacioppo) to pay,” Hart said.
While the district can charge for hard copies of documents, Hart ruled that Cacioppo’s request at the moment is for simply viewing the files on a computer screen. “Until Mr. Cacioppo, or Speakout requests a copy… he is not obligated to pay the costs,” Hart said in his ruling.
Hart also ruled that the school district must pay “reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.”
Cacioppo said he expects the e-mails to prove his assertion that the school board, district administration and some teachers conspired in an effort to damage his business by organizing a boycott.
“Those (e-mails) that have to do with a boycott will be additional evidence that district equipment was used in promoting a boycott against me,” Cacioppo said.
The e-mail suit is one of two Cacioppo is currently engaged in with the district. The main one, now before the Colorado Supreme Court, is a challenge of the district’s question 3-D of 2001. That suit, which has tied up a voter-approved cost-of-living raise for district employees – alleges that the district did not comply with a tax- and spending-limitation amendment to the state’s constitution known as TABOR.
Cacioppo also sued the district in 1998 over an illegal executive session. Cacioppo won that suit, and was awarded $12,000 to cover his legal fees. Cacioppo is also considering another suit against the district regarding an alleged conspiracy to organize a boycott against his business.