County attorney says ACLU lawsuit will force continued spendingGLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado — It’s cost Garfield County taxpayers well over a half-million dollars so far to defend against an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit claiming excessive use of force with Tasers and other problems at the county jail.
As of last week, Garfield County was billed $569,641 by a Boulder law firm for thousands of hours of work to lead the defense against the ACLU’s claims that were filed in July 2006, according to accounts payable records.
“It’s a tremendous amount of money that the taxpayers have spent on this case and will continue to spend,” said Garfield County attorney Don Deford. “The lawsuit has been brought, and we have to defend against it if we don’t agree.”
The figure doesn’t take into account costs of work the county attorney’s office has done to help defend against the ACLU’s claims. The county is also defending against four other ongoing lawsuits the Sheriff’s Office is involved in. But the county doesn’t have to pay anything for those cases outside of the dues it’s paying to an insurance carrier that’s covering those cases.
Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, said the costly litigation could have been avoided if Sheriff Lou Vallario had been willing to discuss jail policy. But Vallario said the ACLU is on a mission to oppose the use of Tasers with frivolous lawsuits, and it will go jail to jail filing them until it finds a judge that agrees.
The law firm handling defense of the ACLU case is Berg, Hill, Greenleaf and Ruscitti, LLP. It has been submitting monthly bills based on a $200 per hour rate for the lead attorney, $180 per hour for two more attorneys working on the case, and $110 per hour for a paralegal. The largest bill was a June 2007 check for more than some people make in a year at $55,285.
Grand Junction Sentinel