Publisher says he’ll sue schools again
After filing three lawsuits against the Eagle County School District, which has spent more than $100,000 in legal fees battling the cases, local “Speakout” publisher Michael Cacioppo said he isn’t giving up.
Cacioppo, who has filed three lawsuits against the school district since 1998, said he is ready to launch a fourth lawsuit against the school district.
“I do intend to sue again for attempting to put me out of business,” Cacioppo said. “I’m about to launch a fourth lawsuit to sue them for damages in their involvement in attempting to put me out of business.”
Cacioppo alleges that the school district distributed material boycotting Speakout advertisers.
“I can’t speak without seeing the lawsuit that he hasn’t filed,” said Pam Holmes Boyd, spokeswoman for the school district. “We always maintained that we never did that.”
Boyd, however, said a flyer that said not to support Speakout’s advertisers was distributed through the district’s inter-office mail system without the school administration knowing about it.
“As soon as we found out, we destroyed it,” Boyd said. “It wasn’t a district-produced thing.”
Two of Cacioppo’s lawsuits against the school district are still pending, including his suit over ballot Question 3-D, which has tied up raises for about 700 school district employees for more than two years. A 1998 lawsuit was settled with the school district paying Cacioppo $12,000, which he said he used to pay his legal fees.
Last week, after it had scheduled oral arguments in the Question 3-D case for April 19, the Colorado Supreme Court decided to skip them and rule on the case’s briefs. Karen Salaz, spokeswoman for the Office of the State Court Administrator, said there was an oversight in the Supreme Court clerk’s office when the case was set for oral arguments.
“The court only allows attorneys licensed in Colorado to argue cases before them,” Salaz said. Cacioppo is not an attorney.
If the Supreme Court rules against him, the 3-D case will be over, Cacioppo said.
The other lawsuit, which alleges the school district hasn’t allowed Cacioppo to view public records, is also pending. The school district is requesting that Cacioppo pay $1,692 – the cost of retrieving from school computer systems documents he requested in September. Cacioppo has so far refused to pay that amount, saying the school district e-mails are public records and should be available at a reasonable cost.
“All of these suits would have been unnecessary if the school board would simply follow the law. Instead, they’ve taken a path to destroy the messenger,” Cacioppo said.
So far, the school district’s legal fees on the 3-D case and other two lawsuits add up to more than $98,000, Boyd said.
“We know that the legal fees will go higher, but we haven’t received the attorney’s latest bill,” Boyd added.
Cacioppo declined to say how much the lawsuits have cost him.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at email@example.com.
Since 1998, Michael Cacioppo, publisher of “Speakout,” has sued the school district three times. The following is timeline of the lawsuits.
• 1998 – Cacioppo files a lawsuit against the Eagle County School District saying he caught the school board in an illegal executive session. The school district settled with Cacioppo and paid him $12,000. Cacioppo cashed the check.
• February 2002 –Cacioppo files a lawsuit against the Eagle County School District tying up raises for school district employees. Cacioppo’s lawsuit against the district claims that the ballot language in Question 3-D 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.
• February 2003 –Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart rejects Cacioppo’s claims that the district exhibited a systemic disregard for the law in its development of the 3-D-ballot language and Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights notice.
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. And he 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.
• March 2003 – Cacioppo appealed Hart’s ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
• Sept. 2003 – Cacioppo sues the school district again. This time for trying to prevent him from viewing e-mails that he said contained a boycott against his weekly newspaper.
• October 2003 -The school district asks the Question 3-D case be transferred to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepts in December.
• March 2004 -The Colorado Supreme Court agrees to hear oral arguments from both sides, but then changes course, saying it will rule solely on the case’s paperwork and will not hear arguments.