It sounds like Larimer County doesn't want to take on the same legal team that just won the Emily Rice case and are representing Tim Masters.
by trevor hughes
The Larimer County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to cover the legal bills for two former prosecutors, along with the current and former district attorneys, in the federal wrongful conviction lawsuit filed by Timothy Masters.
The county had already paid the legal bills for the two former prosecutors during a disciplinary investigation by an office of the Colorado Supreme Court, which concluded Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair “directly impaired the proper operation of the criminal justice system.”
A jury in 1999 convicted Masters for the 1987 murder of Peggy Hettrick, and he spent nearly 10 years in prison. But in January, a special judge freed Masters and overturned his conviction after agreeing that he didn’t get a fair trial. New DNA test results pointed toward another suspect, the judge ruled.
And special prosecutors appointed to review Masters’ conviction concluded that multiple pieces of evidence that should have been turned over to Masters’ defense team weren’t.
However, criminal and internal affairs investigations into the lead detective at the time, Lt. Jim Broderick, have concluded he broke no departmental policies nor committed any crimes that could be prosecuted.
Tuesday, county manager Frank Lancaster said the county’s decision to cover the legal fees is not a referendum on Masters’ guilt or innocence or whether any government employees did anything wrong.
Masters’ attorneys in filing the suit publicly called on the city and the county to offer Masters a multi-million-dollar settlement and avoid costly litigation.
Lancaster said the lawsuit is going to cost taxpayers a “substantial” amount of money regardless of what happens.
“It’s obviously a very high-profile case, and there are going to be a lot of busy attorneys no matter what,” Lancaster said. “Any lawsuit, we try and settle. But it has to be on reasonable grounds. We prefer not to go to court. Most people prefer not to go to court.”
Lancaster said the county’s decision to pay the legal fees is important to show would-be government employees that they will be backed if they are sued in the course of their duties.
“Otherwise, no one would want to be a prosecutor,” he said.
County taxpayers have already paid about $28,000 to cover the legal costs incurred by Blair and Gilmore because the Office of Attorney Regulation investigation covered their actions as prosecutors. The two are now judges.
The city of Fort Collins will similarly cover the legal costs of its current and former employees, city officials confirmed Tuesday night. Masters is suing two police investigators, along with Police Chief Dennis Harrison.
Lancaster said the ongoing legal costs are being borne directly by taxpayers but said any settlement or court judgment in favor of Masters would be covered at least in part by liability insurance.
“The government is the citizens, the taxpayers. We have a fiduciary responsibility to do right by the taxpayers,” Lancaster said. “If a court of law finds something wrong there, we’ll abide by that.”
Masters’ civil lawyers are working on contingency, which means they will get paid only if he wins or receives a settlement.