Meter running on Bryant case
So far, the case has cost the town of Eagle and Eagle County about $10,000 each. County funds were spent primarily on hosting the hundreds of news types and members of the public who attended Bryant’s Aug. 6 court appearance.
The vast majority of the town’s expenses have come in legal fees connected with defending the town in a lawsuit filed by the Vail Daily and Colorado Mountain News Media, which owns the daily paper and the Eagle Valley Enterprise.
The town was sued for the release of dispatch records regarding 911 calls made from the home of the alleged victim in the Bryant case. The Eagle Town Board has earmarked $8,600 for Town Attorney Ed Sands’ work on the case.
Sands said much of the time spent on the case involved legal research and writing briefs filed with District Judge Richard Hart.
The town’s position is that as the custodian of the records, it can keep back documents if it deems the public interest would be harmed by releasing them. Town Manager Willy Powell said the circumstances of the case meet the letter and spirit of the law.
The Vail Daily suit alleges that the records should be public, and the town should not make the decision of what’s in the public interest. The University of Northern Colorado police and the city of Newport Beach, Calif., have released similar records recently when requested.
Hart has not yet ruled on the case.
Sands said if the town loses the case, it probably won’t appeal, but would continue litigating if the Vail Daily loses and appeals. Rohn Robbins, attorney representing the Vail Daily, said his client hasn’t yet discussed an appeal.
In addition to the legal costs, the town also incurred about $1,000 in overtime for police officers pulling extra duty that day.
A big chunk of the county’s bill of between $7,000 and $10,000 for the Aug. 6 hearing was in supplying a tent and televisions to handle the overflow crowd.
Assistant County Administrator Becky Gadell said the county spent $3,700 to rent a tent, since its big tent was in use at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo. In addition, if County Judge Frederick Gannett refuses to allow TV cameras in the courtroom Oct. 9, there will be no need to rent video monitors.
Of more concern to officials is the perception by some that the costs of the case are putting the county in financial jeopardy. According to County Administrator Jack Ingstad, that perception was fueled by a Fox News report that the Kobe case was costing the county $1,000 per minute.
That figure was apparently taken from a Vail Daily story that estimated the costs to the county for the Aug. 6 hearing, and divided that number – about $7,000 – by the number of minutes Bryant was in the courthouse: seven.
Ingstad said Fox News left out some of that information, which has prompted calls from county residents concerned that the costs of handling the case are getting out of hand.
“I actually had a call from a guy who was concerned about his taxes going up because of this,” said Ingstad, who insisted that the financial burden on the county is no more than a “ripple.”
The county’s general fund budget is between $73 million and $80 million for 2003, Ingstad said, adding that with all funds added in – including the airport and three non-profit housing corporations – the grand total is closer to $125 million. The county has more than $40 million in the bank in reserve funds.
While the Eagle County commissioners recently set aside a $105,000 supplemental appropriation for the District Attorney’s Office, the total money spent on that office this year won’t exceed $1.2 million, and District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has actually asked for less money for his 2004 budget.
“There’s an emotional impact on people, but the financial impact is minimal. To insinuate it’s going to bankrupt the county just isn’t true,” said Ingstad.
“Our assessed value is over $2 billion,” he added. “We’re wealthier than a lot of developing countries.”
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.
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