Durango Telegraph - The legal case for independence
The legal case for independence

As of press time, Rep. Kathleen Curry, of Gunnison, is seeking to be added to Riddle’s lawsuit against the Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Linda Daley. In addition to Riddle, La Plata County registered voters Mandy Mikulencak, unaffiliated; Wayne Buck, Republican; and Carol Blatnick, Democrat, are plaintiffs in the suit.

According to Riddle’s lawyer Bill Zimsky, a motion has been filed to add Curry and three other registered voters in Gunnison County to the lawsuit – one unaffiliated, one Democrat and one Republican.

La Plata County Attorney Cheryl Rogers said the county hired outside counsel to defend Daley, Denver lawyer John Zakhem, in part because of his expertise in election law: “In those areas where it’s beyond our general expertise, we frequently hire special counsel.” Rogers added that to carry out all the other functions the county’s legal staff must do on a daily basis, it was deemed in the best interest of the county to hire outside counsel.

Commissioner Wally White expressed concern over the cost of Zakhem’s services: As of Feb. 24, the county has paid $18,000, a figure that will rise as litigation continues. “When I found out that Commissioner Riddle had actually filed a lawsuit against Daley, I was upset, because Daley only follows orders from the state attorney general and she has no place being in this lawsuit, in my opinion,” said White. “It’s costing county taxpayers a lot of money.”

In such cases when a state statute is challenged, however, it’s necessary to challenge the local entity as well, according to Rogers. “If the court were to find the statute unconstitutional, Daley needs to be a party to the lawsuit because the court would likely enter an order requiring her

to put Commissioner Riddle on the ballot; absent to her being a party to the lawsuit, that order wouldn’t really have an effect,” Rogers explained.

Yet the question of whether the county needed to hire defense at all for a constitutional case is arguable, according to Zimsky: “The federal judge is going to operate under the presumption that the law is constitutionally valid, and we have the burden of establishing that it’s not,” Zimsky said. “Even if the county did not participate, the federal judge does not rubber stamp it and say, this must be unconstitutional.”

As far as Curry’s bill, White claims he has no problem with it. “It’s a reasonable thing to do,” he said. “It would be nice to have all of the parties on equal footing; I don’t see why there should be any differences there.”

While White supports the push for equal rights, he disagrees with the way it’s been pursued. “Riddle failed to investigate properly when she decided to (disaffiliate), which ultimately led to this lawsuit, which has led to taxpayer money being spent needlessly,” he said. “I think it’s just sad that she chose to pursue this without having given it enough thought.”

Riddle claims she missed the deadline because she assumed registering as unaffiliated a year in advance would be sufficient. “I thought there possibly couldn’t be stricter regulations,” she said. “But, I went ahead and made that decision, knowing it was going to be a difficult one.”

As for naming Daley in the lawsuit, Riddle said she is simply following the correct legal procedure that enables her to represent not only herself, but a third of Colorado voters who are unaffiliated.

– Christine Rasmussen

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