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Federal Judge Slaps Countys Attorneys



El Paso County attorneys are smarting from a June 21 ruling in which U.S. District Judge John Kane ordered the El Paso County Board of Commissioners to reimburse Friends of Black Forest Park for $12,000 in legal fees.

Friends is a non-profit group formed last year by citizens opposed to a plan to build a road through Black Forest Park. Alleging that a federal statute known as the Sisk Act prohibits a road through Black Forest Park, Friends filed a lawsuit in March to stop work on the road until the court rules on the Act.

When, despite the suit, the county pressed forward with plans to vote on the road at the April 24 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Friends attorney Ken Sparks obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the vote.

In a game of legal cat and mouse, El Paso County attorneys Mike Lucas and Jay Lauer waited until April 20, two working days prior to the BOCC meeting, to remove the case to Federal Court. Meanwhile, they notified Sparks of their act by mail, not by phone. Sparks learned of the action by chance late that Friday, thereby avoiding what would have been a complete surprise the following Monday.

On Monday, April 23, Kane ruled that the county action was "improvident," leaving Friends free to ask for reimbursement of all legal expenses incurred by the county's maneuver.

In his June 21 order that Friends be reimbursed for legal expenses approaching $12,000, Kane excoriated the county's action as "unprecedented," "unreasonable," "vexatious," egregious" " and "just phenomenal."

"This is the first time that I have ever seen a local government attempt to remove a proceeding from a state court involving the enforcement or restraint of its own laws," Kane said.

Lucas, however, considers Kane's ruling "an erroneous application of the law."

"I'm befuddled and confounded by this ruling," Lucas said in an interview earlier this week. "Given Judge Kane's comments in this instance, I'm thrilled that the case is going to be heard in district court by Judge [Kirk] Samelson instead of in federal court by Judge Kane."

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