Zinna case against Congrove goes to jury

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By Vicky Gits

Jurors are deliberating the lawsuit by longtime Jeffco critic Mike Zinna against former county commissioner Jim Congrove. The suit alleges that, in 2005 and 2006, Congrove targeted Zinna for investigation, defamation and harassment, in violation of Zinna’s First Amendment rights.

A commercial photographer testified Dec. 7 in federal court that he had a falling out with Zinna after Zinna failed to pay him for work he’d done on the website Coloradoexposed.com.

Photographer Colin Farrell said he met Zinna at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, where Farrell had a photography studio and owned an airplane.

At first their relationship was friendly and seemed to thrive on their collaborative website work from about 2005 to 2007, but after a couple of years, Farrell said he’d had enough.

Under questioning by Congrove attorney Patrick Tooley, Farrell testified he spent hundreds of hours working on the website.

He said he was aware that Zinna was involved in a contentious land deal with Jefferson County and that Zinna had created the website “to express his unhappiness with Jeffco and to ‘out’ the wrongdoing of public officials.”

Zinna’s attorneys argue that, in 2005, Congrove made discontinuing the anti-Jeffco website a condition of obtaining a favorable agreement on Zinna’s land deal. Congrove’s attorneys say there never was a deal.

Zinna alleges that Congrove and former assistant county attorney Duncan Bradley set up a website, Coloradowackoexposed.com, to defame him, using military records and illegally obtained e-mails.

Zinna also claims Congrove tried to force the cancellation of a real estate deal and foreclose on a number of airport office buildings in which Zinna had a financial interest.

Congrove maintains there was never a real estate deal and that the eviction was justified on grounds the tenants were not using the property for aviation-related purposes, in violation of the lease agreement.

The trial began Monday, Nov. 30, and was expected to last 10 days. U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch is presiding. One of the 12 jurors has been excused for medical problems.

Farrell said he expected payment for his work but was never paid and that Zinna turned on him when he finally submitted an invoice.

“Mike was very unhappy with the invoice. He had a very threatening tone, and I did not like it,” Farrell said. “I filed a report with the sheriff’s office about it.”

Farrell also testified that he did photographic portrait work for Congrove at Zinna’s request, before Zinna and Congrove came to be at odds.

Under questioning by Zinna attorney Chris Beall, Farrell said that Zinna and he were once friendly enough to have beers together after work.

Farrell said he published a picture of a mushroom cloud over the Jefferson County Courts and Administration Building as a way of getting people’s attention.

“The idea was a lampoon. It was not meant literally. It got a lot of attention. I tried to make it interesting,” Farrell said.

He testified that he knew of an artist who was using one of the hangars as a residence, as Zinna is alleged to have done.

Tooley also questioned Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky, who became acquainted with Zinna during McCasky’s 2004 campaign for county commissioner.

“Zinna came in my office two or three times a week and would keep me informed,” McCasky said.

Tooley asked McCasky about the real estate lawsuit involving BJC Corp. and Zinna.

“We just wanted it settled once and for all. We wanted an end to everything to do with BJC,” McCasky said. “It was a good-faith effort. Zinna said he wanted to be a developer… . We learned the FAA wasn’t going to go forward.”

McCasky testified that Zinna attended the commissioners’ meetings on a weekly basis and seemed to become progressively “more intense.”

He said Zinna once followed him out of the building while carrying on a heated discussion.

He also said it was typical to have a deputy in the hearing room because of emotional reactions to land-use matters in general, not just because Zinna was or might be there.

He denied ever asking anyone to initiate surveillance on Zinna.

“When his level of intensity was increasing, we would take security with us to public meetings in the form of a plainclothes deputy. We had no idea who (the deputy) was,” McCasky said.

“Our strategy was to tone down our reactions. We were seeking advice on how to interact with him. … We just wanted to tone it down. But everything we did was a step back,” McCasky said.

On one occasion, McCasky said, he was forced to turn off the microphone during a public hearing because Zinna was standing 6 feet away and yelling into the mic. He testified that he used the switch to silence Zinna on that one occasion only.

McCasky told the jury that he never orchestrated a campaign to silence Zinna.

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or vicky@evergreenco.com.