Denver District Court Judge Michael Vallejos ordered Mayor Michael Hancock to release improperly withheld documents on the city’s housing advisory committee, ruling against Hancock in the 2020 lawsuit.
Vallejos filed the order Monday, demanding the release of 45 of 49 pages of documents that were withheld after Denver resident Florence Sebern submitted a request for the documents under the Colorado Open Records Act.
“I am grateful that Judge Vallejos took the time to carefully and thoughtfully consider this matter and apply the law, as written,” Sebern said. "It appears standard procedure in the Mayor's office is to obscure their actions and dare residents to challenge in court.”
Sebern submitted the CORA request in August, asking for all materials regarding the authority for and creation of the Group Living Advisory Committee, which drafted the city’s Group Living Amendment.
A city records custodian identified five emails with attached documents regarding the request but the mayor's deputy communications director decided the records could not be disclosed.
State and local government entities are permitted to withhold certain records when the material is so candid or personal that disclosing the records to the public would likely stifle future honest discussion.
“The city argues, at the risk of over-simplification, that generally, the pre-decisional process contains candid, frank discussions,” Vallejos wrote in his decision. “In short, there is no deliberation contained in the attachments.”
“While the meetings may have had plenty of robust deliberation, those were verbal and not reduced to writing or a transcript. … While their deliberations are sacrosanct and not reviewable, the exhibits and instructions they receive to guide their deliberations are generally part of a public file.”
The city also claimed the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege; however, Vallejos ruled the privilege did not apply because the documents don’t reflect that the sender was seeking or receiving any legal advice.
“The Court finds that merely because Mr. Nathan Lucero, a City Attorney, was a member of this group ... and was a recipient of a group email, does not thereby afford attorney-client privilege to these documents,” Vallejos wrote.
With this ruling, Hancock has 21 days from Monday to release the requested documents.
Sebern is also seeking recovery for her attorney fees during the lawsuit. She has 21 days to file a motion for the fees and then the city will have 14 days to respond.
“It's an astounding attitude which forces taxpaying Denverites to expend their hard-earned money twice: once to pay the salaries of those who work for us, and then pay court costs when they are negligent,” Sebern said.