High court skips 3-D hearing | VailDaily.com

High court skips 3-D hearing

Veronica Whitney
Michael Cacioppo

Attorneys for the Eagle County School District and local publisher Michael Cacioppo will have to defend their two-year-long battle over raises for school district employees in writing.

The Colorado Supreme Court has changed its mind and will issue its ruling based solely on the case’s paperwork and no oral arguments.

The state’s highest court has vacated the Question 3-D oral arguments scheduled for April 19. Although Cacioppo isn’t an attorney, the court had previously agreed to hear oral arguments from him and the school district attorneys on the 3-D case – the cost-of-living funding increase passed by voters in 2001.

The case filed by Cacioppo, publisher of the weekly Speakout, in 2002 has tied up raises for some 700 school district employees. The district has collected $6.2 million since 3-D, which increased funding for the school district by $3.1 million annually, was enacted in January 2002.

The Supreme Court’s March 23 order says that after examining the briefs and the record on appeal, the court has determined that oral arguments would not materially assist the determination of this appeal.

“Therefore, the oral argument setting of April 19 is vacated and this case shall be submitted on the briefs,” the order says.

“The complete case is in the Supreme Court’s hands, but unfortunately, there is no set timeframe associated with a court ruling,” school district spokeswoman Pam Boyd said. “Again, our attorneys noted that rulings can take anytime between two months and two years.”

Although court officials said the Supreme Court accepted the case in December because it could set a precedent for the entire state, Cacioppo said he expects the Supreme Court justices to rule against him.

“I believe they won’t do an unpopular decision,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to do that. I hope I’m wrong.”

Karen Salaz, spokeswoman for the Office of the State Court Administrator, couldn’t be reached Monday for comment. Salaz earlier said that although it’s common for the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments, it was unusual that the justices agreed to hear arguments from Cacioppo, who is representing himself.

“They have oral arguments nine months of the year,” Salaz said. “It is unique that they will listen to Cacioppo, because he isn’t an attorney. It is usually attorneys who give oral arguments before the Supreme Court.”

Todd Huck, president of the Eagle County Education Association, didn’t return calls for this story but has said the Supreme Court’s taking of the case will speed up the process.

In February 2003, Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart rejected Cacioppo’s claims that the district exhibited a systemic disregard for the law in its development of the 3D ballot language and Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights notice. In March, Cacioppo appealed Hart’s ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The school district in October asked that the case be transferred to the state Supreme Court.

Cacioppo’s lawsuit against the district claims that the ballot language in Question 3D violated the Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR.

TABOR strictly regulates any tax increases and requires specific language for ballot questions. Cacioppo’s lawsuit claims that the district’s TABOR notice contained falsified dollar amounts and growth percentages and that the ballot language was false and misleading.

Hart ruled that when the district referenced financial data from the 2000-01 fiscal year – rather than the 2001-02 fiscal year as the current fiscal year spending – it did so in error. He also ruled that the school district did present Eagle County voters the information they needed to make an informed decision and that district personnel did not intentionally or deliberately try to mislead the voters.

“There is a group of people who have lied to voters and they don’t deserve to win the case,” Cacioppo said. “Saying that it was a mistake shouldn’t matter. The fact is that the voters were misled.”

Boyd said the school district has always maintained that both the ballot question and the TABOR notice complied with the law.

So far, the school district’s legal fees add up to more than $99,000. Cacioppo declined to say how much the lawsuit has cost him.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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