Feds say grant can’t go for legal requests from shooting, city on the hook for more than $100K


AURORA | The city will have to pay more than $110,000 in legal fees after hiring outside lawyers to handle issues stemming from the July 20 theater shootings.

In the days after the shooting, the city hired Denver law firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck, LLP, to respond to the flood of requests for city records they received after the rampage, which left 12 dead and 70

City officials had hoped federal grants would cover the extra legal costs, but City Attorney Charlie Richardson said this week that those grants can’t be used for legal fees and the city will have to foot the bill.

Richardson said he was disappointed that the grants, which the federal government gave to the city to cover costs associated with the shootings, won’t cover legal fees.

“But for the tragedy we wouldn’t have had to do all this stuff,” he said.

In all, the city fielded 33 requests for city documents filed under the Colorado Open Records Act. The requests came from around the country, Richardson said, and many were far-reaching, including one that asked for all internal city emails.

The requests were particularly time consuming because a gag order in the criminal case against accused shooter James Holmes limits what city officials can say or release about the case.

Richardson’s office has been admittedly careful about what they release in connection to the theater case out of concern for the gag order.

“Each CORA request had to be carefully analyzed to determine whether a response was permissible in the context of CORA and more importantly, whether it would run afoul of the Pretrial Publicity Order provisions associated with the Holmes criminal case,” Richardson said in an email.

The vast majority of the requests came in just a few days after the shootings, Richardson said, so the city had to seek outside help to respond to them.

In a motion filed on the city’s behalf last month, lawyers from Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck,  LLP, asked Chief Judge William Sylvester to relax the order so they could discuss the city’s response to the theater shooting with other municipalities who hope to learn from Aurora’s experience. The city argued the order was no longer relevant after a trove of details were released during Holmes’ preliminary hearing last month.

But Sylvester rejected that request and said the order would remain in place. Lawyers for Holmes and the prosecution had objected to the city’s request.

The city also paid outside lawyers to look at what the city’s possible liability could be from the shooting.

“This legal research confirmed that none of the City’s actions give rise to any civil liability exposure,” Richardson said.

In all, the city is on the hook for $99,498 for work concerning the CORA requests and the gag order, and $12,350 for research on the city’s liability.

Now, because the grants won’t cover the costs, Richardson said the city has ended its contract with Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Shreck,  LLP, and Richardson’s staff will now take on the work the law firm was doing.

The CORA requests have stopped, he said, but there’s a chance they could pick up.

In particular, Richardson said the city could see several requests for information about crime near the Century 16 theater coming from lawyers who have filed federal lawsuits stemming from the shootings.

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9 years ago

Why does the City of Aurora “farm out” legal work when they have a whole floor full of lawyers?