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School board ignores 3D settlement offer

Veronica Whitney

A local publisher’s offer to settle a lawsuit with the Eagle County School District passed Tuesday without any action, both parties saying they’ll stay in the battle to the very end, if necessary.

The Eagle County school board opted not to formally consider Michaels Cacioppo’s offer to settle the lawsuit that has blocked pay raises for school district employees for more than a year, says Pam Holmes Boyd, spokeswoman for the school district. The pay raises were approved by voters with Question 3D in 2001.

“Eagle County School District has already won the 3D case in district

court,” Boyd says.

Last month, Eagle County District Court Judge Richard Hart ruled in favor of the school district. In his ruling, Judge Hart rejected claims from Cacioppo the district exhibited a systemic disregard for the law in its development of Question 3D and TABOR notice.

“I’m not surprised with this decision,” Cacioppo says. “They (school district officials) have always wanted the lawsuit. They are trying to change the constitution without the voters’ approval and they want to do it in a courtroom.

“I promised to sue all the way to the Supreme Court – and I will do it,” he adds.

“Going all the way’

“At this point we’re going all the way,” says Barbara Schierkolk, chairman of the school board. “We’ll wait and see what the next action is.”

“Prior to the trial, the Board of Education rejected another settlement

offer from Mr. Cacioppo, and stated the belief that is it not in the

district’s, or the taxpayers’, best interests to pay Mr.Cacioppo’s legal

fees and meet his other demands,” adds Boyd.

Cacioppo’s offer required the school district not include an additional and fluctuating amount beyond the $3.1 million per year passed by voters. It also asked the school district to reimburse Cacioppo for his legal fees immediately.

“Members of the Board of Education voiced the concern that it would set a dangerous precedent to agree to pay Mr. Cacioppo’s attorneys fees in this case because it would essentially remove any financial consequences resulting from his decision to bring forward his unsuccessful litigation,” Boyd says.

$80,000 so far

In his decision, however, Judge Hart didn’t award attorney’s fees to the school district, which so far add up to more than $80,000, Boyd says, and additional fees could add up.

Cacioppo, meanwhile, has until May 29 to file an appeal.

“If Mr. Cacioppo chooses to appeal this case,” Boyd says, “the district is prepared to again demonstrate how Ballot Question 3D complied with the law.”

Schierkolk says costs for the appeal won’t be that high because the attorneys have done most of the work in the case already.

Waiting for raises

In the meantime, some 700 school district employees are still waiting for their pay raises. School district officials said if Cacioppo files an appeal, the school board would continue to hold the 3D payments. The school district has collected $3.1 million since Question 3D was enacted in January 2002, increasing funding for the school district by $3.1 million annually.

Cacioppo’s lawsuit alleges the ballot language contained in Ballot Question 3D violated the terms of Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

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

Cacioppo publishes Speakout!, a local weekly tabloid.

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New attorney?

After 15 months representing Michael Cacioppo in litigation with the Eagle County School District, attorney Carol Curtis is trying to withdraw from the case.

Curtis filed a motion to withdraw with the Eagle County District Court on May 13, the day before Cacioppo presented his settlement offer to the school board.

“It was a mutual agreement between Michael and I. We still need the court’s blessing,” Curtis said. “I don’t believe that the case is without merit.”

According to Colorado’s Code of Professional Conduct, a lawyer can only ask to withdraw in a pending matter under certain circumstances. In her motion to withdraw, Curtis cites the following rules of the code:

– The client insists upon presenting a claim or defense that isn’t wanted under existing law; or the client by other conduct renders it unreasonably difficult for the lawyers to carry out their job effectively.

– The client deliberately declines an agreement or obligation to the lawyer as to expenses or fees.

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


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