Open records case to appeals court
March 29, 2018
In a case that began last year, Gunbarrel resident Kristin Bjornsen is now taking her lawsuit against Boulder County to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Bjornsen’s suit alleges that the Boulder County Commissioners have violated the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) and the Colorado Open Meetings Law (COML).
The issue stems from documents concerning the Twin Lakes area and the county’s use of open space. After many petitions and not getting the information she wanted from the county, Bjornsen filed suit when the documents she requested came in heavily redacted or with parts missing.
For the CORA requests, Bjornsen requested:
- Emails from an elected official to a quorum of other elected officials (which constitutes a public meeting) that were redacted as work product.
- The drafts of a lobbying email from an appointed director to members of the public asking them to support pending legislation. The drafts are being withheld as work product.
- A privilege log for a document withheld under attorney-client privilege.
- In camera review of a document redacted as a personal comment.
In the COML issue, Bjornsen alleges that there were:
- three executive sessions that were authorized "after the fact,"
- four that had no subject matter given,
- one session (on Real or Personal Property Sales and Acquisitions) that was never electronically recorded,
- and five to seven sessions that took place (some via email with a quorum) outside of a regular or special meeting (depending on whether "administrative meetings" count as a regular or special meeting).
District Judge Thomas Mulvahill granted the county’s motion to dismiss the case in early 2018, and Bjornsen filed an appeal last week.
“I feel these transparency issues are too important not to appeal,” Bjornsen said. “The case asks questions such as, ‘Is it okay for our county commissioners to meet in secret and then retroactively authorize those meetings?’, ‘Is it okay for them to redact email conversations between all three Commissioners?’, and ‘Does this pattern of behavior adhere to Colorado’s Sunshine laws and freedom-of-information laws?’
“Although I know I’m at a disadvantage without an attorney, the Court of Appeals is the expert in the law, so I have hope.”
Bjornsen did start this case with pro bono legal representation, but has gone through the last few hearings representing herself in the case.
“Representing myself has been like jumping in a shark tank without knowing how to swim,” Bjornsen said. “Although I’d researched the Sunshine laws extensively, I was almost totally ignorant of court procedures, and it was just me against the county's three attorneys at the hearing. But the truth still matters, so now I am turning to a higher court.”
She said that even though the district court sided with the county for the first round, she is still going to pursue the case as a matter of principal.
“Our local government does good things, but many of its actions lately have been shrouded in secrecy, and that hurts everybody,” Bjornsen said. “Whether it's the Twin Lakes, road repairs, gas drilling, farming, or another issue, the commissioners’ stranglehold on information impacts all of us and our democracy. If my suit can help throw back the curtains a bit and let some light in, then I have a duty to pursue it.”
Bjornsen will have her opening brief due in the Court of Appeals on April 26, but the case is expected to take up to 12 months before a decision is made.