County Administrator Jim Moore testified in a federal lawsuit last week that, in 2005, the Jeffco commissioners actively tried to silence longtime county critic Mike Zinna.
“They were very displeased. They wanted him to stop,” Moore said, referring to the former commission’s reaction to stories posted on Zinna’s websites. “They generally talked about ways to shut him up, shut him down. … There was discussion about evicting him from the airport.”
Moore also said he authorized the installation of a microphone kill switch in a county hearing room so the mic could be silenced during public comment periods.
“I believe it was my second day on the job,” he said. Moore acknowledged that some of the commissioners referred to the device as “the Zinna switch,” though he said he personally did not and specifically could not remember who did.
Current Commissioner Kevin McCasky, who was in office in 2005, also took the stand Dec. 3 in Zinna’s long-awaited civil lawsuit against former commissioner Jim Congrove. The first week of the federal trial also included testimony from former county attorney Frank Hutfless.
Zinna, a longtime county critic, claims his First Amendment rights were violated in 2005 when Congrove allegedly used his political authority to halt his frequent investigations into Jeffco government.
Central to Zinna’s case is evidence that allegedly shows county employees worked to have Zinna evicted from his residence at the Jeffco-owned Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, used the microphone kill switch to prevent Zinna’s comments from being heard during public hearings, and helped create a defamatory website containing information illegally gathered from Zinna’s private e-mails.
McCasky testified that the former commission discussed the possibility that Zinna would not appreciate a website that singled him out for defamation, much as those commissioners thought Zinna’s website defamed them.
“I don’t think anybody would appreciate that,” he said, noting later that he had no knowledge of who developed coloradowackoexposed.com, a defunct website that displayed Zinna’s mug shot and a lengthy rap sheet.
McCasky and Moore both acknowledged having seen the same mug shot posted in Congrove’s office, though that photo lacked the lettering present on the website.
Congrove gave a printed copy of an e-mail from the website that was addressed to the commissioners, McCasky said.
“He handed me a copy of this material and said, ‘You ought to check out this website.’ ”
The email was sent to Congrove’s personal e-mail address at the county, which differed from his address displayed on the commissioners’ website.
“We give them out personally, for business uses,” McCasky said of his corresponding e-mail address.
Moore said he recalled Congrove frequently expressing animosity toward Zinna but did not remember Congrove mentioning interest in creating a defamatory website.
Former county attorney Hutfless testified Dec. 2 that he hired private investigator Daril Cinquanta to investigate whether Zinna was breaking FAA regulations by living in a hangar at the airport. McCasky said he disapproved of Cinquata’s investigation of Zinna, specifically because Cinquanta was an acquaintance of Congrove.
“I told him that from this point forward … we would no longer employ Mr. Cinquanta,” McCasky said. “I believe we needed to hire somebody who was impartial.”
Zinna alleges that former assistant county attorney Duncan Bradley played a role in adding material to coloradowackoexposed.com. Paralegal Terri Garrod testified she helped Bradley make digital copies of documents that she later saw posted on the website. The documents were part of an 8,000-page file that has been missing from the county attorney’s office since April 2005, she said.
Zinna, the former blogger and KHOW talk-radio host, is seeking compensatory damages, though Judge Richard Matsch determined economic damages applicable to potential income lost from radio business will not be awarded, a court source said. Punitive damages are not being sought.
A jury of six men and six women from different parts of Colorado was selected early Nov. 30, the first day of the trial. One juror has since been dismissed as a result of health issues.
When Zinna attorney Chris Beall finished his opening statement on the trial’s first day, Zinna began his testimony as the plaintiff’s first witness. The defense reserved its right to delay an opening statement until the plaintiff rests.
“This is a case about the right of citizens to receive information,” Beall said. “This is a case about retaliation. … (Zinna’s) a troublemaker for public officials.”
Zinna claims his contracts with KHOW for various time slots were canceled after station management received mailings that defamed him.
“I’m glad I finally got my day in court,” he said.
Zinna hosted the programs “Colorado Exposed,” “The Italian Show” and “The Pro Bono Show.”
The mailings, which Zinna dubbed “wacko packages,” included 30 to 50 pages taken from coloradowackoexposed.com, which contained information about his business associates and discouraged people from working with him. Also included on the website were arrest records and paperwork from his Air Force discharge.
Defense attorney Patrick Tooley asserted that Zinna’s contract cancellations had more to do with the shows’ financial instability than political pressure. At the time of cancellation, none of the programs had turned a profit, though Zinna said they were on a path to do so. KHOW offered new contracts to Zinna, but the station would have charged more than twice the previous rate for his brokered air time, he said.
Though Zinna initially supported Congrove’s election, he became less enthusiastic when he said Congrove asked him to shut down coloradoexposed.com.
“It was a little troubling,” Zinna said. “He said to me, ‘You have to decide if you want to be a developer or a reporter.’ … He flat out told me to shut down the website.”
One of Zinna’s business affiliates, BJC Corp., owned several hangars at the airport and was attempting to reach an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit it filed against Jefferson County. Zinna alleges Congrove pressured him to shut down the website in exchange for an amicable settlement with that company.
“The BJC dispute hung in the balance if I didn’t shut down the website,” Zinna said.
Part of the alleged pressure from Congrove and the county included staying away from public hearings and Board of County Commissioner meetings, which Zinna said he rarely missed. During his visits to the Taj Mahal, he said, deputies constantly followed him, making contact with private sources impossible.
Part of Zinna’s investigative work uncovered the “Pinky T scandal,” in which former commissioner Rick Sheehan allegedly sent Zinna false information about sexual liaisons of other county officials. Zinna attributes the discovery to Sheehan’s resignation.
Congrove declined to comment on the case at the advice of Tooley.
“We don’t believe it is appropriate to comment,” Tooley said.