Publisher files appeal in lawsuit against school district
The Eagle County School District will continue to hold pay raises for its employees after local publisher Michael Cacioppo appeals a judge’s decision regarding Ballot Question 3D.
In his notice of appeal, filed on Wednesday with the Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver, Cacioppo, publisher of the weekly tabloid Speakout!, cited 12 issues.
About 700 school district employees, meanwhile, are still waiting for pay raises passed by voters in 2001. The school district has collected $6.2 million since Ballot Question 3D – which increased funding for the school district by $3.1 million annually – was enacted in January 2002.
“The board of education previously decided to hold all 3D distribution
while litigation was pending. As the litigation is still pending, the
money will not be distributed,” said Pam Holmes Boyd, spokeswoman for the school district. “Our attorneys are now studying his notice to determine the merits of the specific incidents of alleged judicial error.”
“Going all the way’
The appeal came after the school board rejected last week Cacioppo’s second offer to settle the lawsuit.
Last month, Eagle County District Court Judge Richard Hart ruled in favor of the school district. In his ruling, he rejected claims by Cacioppo the district exhibited a systemic disregard for the law in its development of Question 3D.
“I’ll probably be filing an extension to seek out an experienced appellate lawyer,” Cacioppo said Thursday. “They’ll have to have more experience than I do, otherwise, I’ll do it myself.
“I look forward to try a case in appellate court,” he added. “In one thing we agree with the school district: We agree we’re going all the way.”
Cacioppo is temporarily representing himself after his attorney, Carol Curtis, filed a motion on May 13 to withdraw from the case.
Cacioppo’s lawsuit alleges the ballot language contained in Ballot Question 3D violated the terms of Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which strictly regulates any tax increases and calls out specific language for ballot questions. His lawsuit claims the district’s TABOR notice contained falsified dollar amounts and growth percentages, and that the ballot language itself was false and misleading.
“Money will not be a factor in going all the way to the Supreme Court,” Cacioppo said. “They’ll be dealing with me for the next four years.”
Legal fees mounting
Cacioppo declined to say how much he has spent on the litigation. The school district, however, has spent more than $80,000 in legal fees.
In his decision, however, Judge Hart didn’t award attorney’s fees to the school district.
Barbara Schierkolk, chairwoman of the school board, said costs incurred in the appeal won’t be that high because the attorneys have done most of the work in the case already.
“The complaint that Mr. Cacioppo brought is afforded the highest priority, because it’s a constitutional issue,” said Adele Reester, an attorney for the school district. “The court should afford it the highest civil priority. But it’s up to the Court of Appeals if they can turn a decision in a couple of months or if it will take longer.”
The school district will proceed in the Court of Appeals following to the court’s established rules of procedure and continue to defend against the lawsuit accordingly, Reester said.
If Cacioppo fails at the Court of Appeals, he could file a petition with the Colorado Supreme Court.
What’s at issue now?
Cacioppo’s appeal notice includes 12 issues, which include:
– Did the trial court err in allowing the school district’s ballot notice to contain disclosures from the wrong five-year period complied with TABOR?
– Can the ballot language be interpreted to allow a tax increase of $3.1 million or more the first year, a $6.2 million increase the second year and $9.3 million tax increase the third year, ad infinitum?
– Should raises be granted from this ballot initiative for classified employees when it was represented by the defendant that only professional employees would be granted additional cost-of-living raises?
– Is it fair or legal or should it be condoned that a government can wittingly use taxpayer money against the taxpayers to litigate a constitutional change without the vote of the people at a fee less than the cost of a statewide election campaign asking voters to consider changes, instead of the courts?
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.