Ex-county attorney takes witness stand in Zinna trial

-A A +A

County critic claiming he was defamed by Jeffco commissioner

By Vicky Gits

In the third day of the misuse-of-power jury trial pitting radio-show host and longtime Jeffco critic Mike Zinna against former commissioner Jim Congrove, the focus was on former county attorney Frank Hutfless, the top in-house attorney for Jeffco from February 2005 to March 2007.

Zinna is suing Congrove on grounds he was targeted for investigation, defamation and harassment because he publicly criticized Congrove and Jeffco government in general in 2005. Zinna alleges that Congrove and former assistant county attorney Duncan Bradley set up a website to defame him using illegally obtained military records and e-mails.

Last July, Hutfless submitted a statement saying he believes Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky and former commissioner Jim Congrove may have broken laws in the way they handled Zinna. The statement provoked the county’s legal advisers to warn him not to break confidentiality rules. (The county is not a defendant in the ongoing case.)

Federal District Judge Richard Matsch is presiding over the trial, which is expected to last 10 days. On day three, Dec. 2, one juror was excused for having ankle problems, leaving a panel of 11. A substitute was not seated. Hutfless was on the witness stand for about three hours.

The first person on the witness stand was Zinna, under cross-examination by opposing attorney Patrick Tooley. Tooley asked if Zinna was correctly quoted in a Canyon Courier article in 2004 as saying the man who used a bulldozer and demolished the town of Granby was a hero.

“It’s what I thought. I don’t care if (other people) were offended,” Zinna said. Zinna claimed that other negative material published about him was totally inaccurate.

Zinna said he never filed a libel lawsuit because he understood that, as a public figure, he would have little chance of winning a case.

“You claim Congrove retaliated because he was angry with you,” Tooley said.

“My job is to tell the truth,” Zinna said.

Hutfless took the stand about 11 a.m Zinna’s attorney, Christopher Beall, tried to demonstrate that Hutfless was involved in orchestrating an illegal investigation of Zinna using county funds at the behest of Congrove.

Hutfless maintained he hired a private investigator, Daril Cinquanta, in 2005 in a routine way, only to find out if Zinna was violating FAA rules by maintaining a residence in an airport building, which he also managed.

Eventually Hutfless said, he concluded there wasn’t enough evidence showing Zinna lived at the airport or that buildings were being used for non-airport-related services.

“There were never any conclusions. What I perceived was there was insufficient evidence to show that he was living in the unit or doing non-aviation-related activities. The long and the short was, I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I heard he was living somewhere else.”

Hutfless testified that he asked for information to be collected but denied he had anything to do with setting up an anti-Zinna website called coloradowackoexposed.com. He did say other commissioners were uncomfortable with Cinquanta’s employment.

“Commissioners McCasky and Auburn expressed concern about Cinquanta and asked me to fire him, which I eventually did,” Hutfless said. “They wanted him terminated.”

Hutfless testified he hired an attorney, Duncan Bradley, specifically at Congrove’s request, even though Bradley did not have a license to practice in Colorado. When questioned by Beall, Hutfless verified that Bradley spent a lot of time working on matters related to Zinna.

Beall asked Hutfless about Congrove’s attitude toward Zinna. “I would characterize it as adversarial,” Hutfless said.

Hutfless said he understood his role was to exhaust the legal options and gather any documents that might have some use in connection with a pending eviction lawsuit involving BJC Corp. BJC owned several hangars at the county-owned Rocky Mountain Regional Airport. Zinna had a business relationship of some kind with BJC Corp.

Zinna alleges Congrove pressured him to shut down his anti-Jeffco website, Coloradoexposed.com, in exchange for a favorable settlement in the BJC matter.

Hutfless said the county was afraid of losing millions in grant money if the FAA found out that property at the airport wasn’t being used for airport-related purposes.

Beall asked Hutfless whether he authorized a private investigator to set up a camera at county commission meetings on several occasions to record the faces of people who made public comments. On an overhead projector, Beall displayed several invoices requesting payment for Cinquanta’s video recording activities.

Hutfless said he did not recall doing that. If Cinquanta took pictures at county commissioners’ meetings, it was his own decision, “not at my direction,” Hutfless said.

Hutfless also denied he ever saw a report documenting that Cinquanta had conducted surveillance for 23 hours.

Hutfless said Congrove was not happy when Hutfless decided to ask Duncan Bradley to resign.

“He said he didn’t like the way the matter was handled,” Hutfless testified.

“Did you regard that as a threat?” Beall asked.

“Yes,” said Hutfless, who left the county’s employ in January 2007 after Bradley resigned. “I felt a tremendous amount of stress and a hostile environment to me. I chose not to represent Mr. Congrove, who I believed wanted me removed because of the statements I just mentioned.”

Hutfless later testified he had no idea what happened to the 8,000-page report that disappeared from the county attorney’s office in April 2005.

After a midafternoon recess, Evan Donald Elliott of EDE Corp., a private investigation company, testified he investigated Zinna for a client, Mark Yost. But he denied that he ever intercepted any wireless Internet signals from Zinna’s computer, which he said would be illegal.

Terri Garrod, a paralegal in the county attorney’s office, testified she was briefly assigned to Bradley in March 2005 while he worked in the county attorney’s office.

She helped him scan some documents into a computer and copied the file to a disk. The documents she copied later appeared on Coloradowackoexposed.com.

“The documents on the links were the ones I scanned for Mr. Bradley,” Garrod said. “I saw them on the website in April or May.”

The documents on the disk were part of the missing 8,000-page file, Garrod said.