Arvada asks Colorado Supreme Court to review reinstatement of secret ballots lawsuit

The Colorado Supreme Court has been asked to review a state Court of Appeals decision that reinstated an Arvada resident’s lawsuit against his city for using secret ballots to fill a city council vacancy.

In a petition for writ of certiorari filed Wednesday, the city of Arvada argued that the appellate court’s April 9 ruling conflicts with a 2000 Court of Appeals decision. In that 15-year-old case, the Court of Appeals found that the Pueblo School District did not have legal standing to sue the Colorado High School Activities Association for allegedly failing to comply with the notice requirements of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (aka the Sunshine Law).

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Russell Weisfield

In the Arvada case, the Court of Appeals ruled that Russell Weisfield did have standing to sue the Denver suburb for violating the Sunshine Law by voting four times by secret ballot in January 2014 to eliminate candidates for a vacant council seat. Overturning a Jefferson County District Court judge’s dismissal of Weisfield’s suit, the appellate court found that Weisfield can indeed show a “legally protected interest” that was damaged by the closed-door process.

Arvada wants the Supreme Court to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that Weisfield “properly alleged an injury.”

The state legislature enacted the secret ballots provision of the Sunshine Law in 2012. With few exceptions, it prohibits the state or any local public body from voting in secret to adopt “any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, or regulation” or to take “formal action.”

After Weisfield’s suit was thrown out at the district court level, the legislature unanimously approved HB 14-1390, which is intended to ensure that anyone has legal standing to challenge violations of the Sunshine Law.

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