Jefferson County taxpayers will still be on the hook for Commissioner Jim Congrove's legal fees after he leaves office in January, even though the legal battle he's fighting does not officially involve the county.
Congrove is one of a handful of defendants in a federal wiretapping lawsuit filed by Mike Zinna, a longtime county gadfly. Zinna alleges that Congrove, private investigator Daril Cinquanta, former assistant county attorney Duncan Bradley, and Robert Cook illegally intercepted his e-mails and posted them on the Internet in an effort to defame him and ruin his business dealings. That civil lawsuit, filed in 2006, does not include the county as a defendant.
Zinna had a previous lawsuit against Congrove and the county commissioners in 2005, alleging they infringed on his constitutional rights. In that case, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ruled in May that Zinna couldn't prove the county had any official policy of retaliating against him, and that his claims should be addressed to Congrove individually.
The county has paid Patrick Tooley, a private defense attorney, thousands of dollaers to defend Congrove in other investigations. Tooley is also Congrove's county-funded lawyer in the wiretapping case, despite the fact that the allegations pertain to Congrove individually.
Tooley did not respond to a message for comment.
Ellen Wakeman, Jeffco's acting county attorney, said the county is obligated to pay the attorney fees unless it's proven that Congrove's actions were not performed as part of his official duties, which likely won't be until after any potential trial. It's unclear as to whether Zinna fully separates Congrove from his role as a county commissioner in his court filings, Wakeman said.
"It's confusing as to whether he's saying Jim is doing this as a commissioner, or whether he's doing it in private," Wakeman said. "From (Zinna's) pleading, you can't tell what he's alleging."
"Confusion at the county attorney's office is nothing new," Zinna said. "On one hand, several honest county attorney whistleblowers continue to cooperate with law enforcement. On the other hand, a few desperate county attorneys who are inextricably linked to Congrove apparently now believe that wiretapping somehow falls within the scope of Congrove's duties as a commissioner. It's remarkable how this has escalated to a point where it's necessary to fund yet another Congrove legal-defense."