The Douglas County School District will pay Rep. Robert Marshall more than $103,000 for legal costs related to his lawsuit against the school board for violating Colorado Open Meetings Law.
The resolution ends a 19-month legal battle.
Voting on Sept. 26, the school board unanimously approved a resolution to pay Marshall, a democratic state representative in Highlands Ranch, $103,400 in attorneys costs and court fees.
Douglas County District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes found in June that board members Becky Myers, President Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar acted illegally when they had a series of private one-on-one conversations in February 2022 about firing former superintendent Corey Wise.
Under Colorado law, the district is obligated to pay Marshall’s attorney’s fees and court costs, though the district could argue that the cost is unreasonable. The board approved the resolution ahead of a scheduled Oct. 6 court hearing to debate whether Marshall was seeking reasonable fees.
Peterson said he is looking to put the lawsuit behind the board.
“This is what we need to do to go forward and … avoid future costs in this specific matter because if we do not approve this resolution tonight has indicated a desire or potential to appeal, dragging it out for I don’t know how much longer,” he said.
The board’s resolution includes a statement that the board does not believe that Marshall is “entitled to the full amount of fees and costs he claims but wants to resolve this matter now without an appeal.”
Board members David Ray and Susan Meek said they did not agree with including that in the resolution, but Peterson and others said it reflects their belief that Marshall prolonged the case with appeals.
Ray and Meek also pushed to include an explicit statement that Myers, Peterson, Williams and Winegar violated open meetings law, which the board agreed to.
“We can’t ignore the fact that for the first time in Douglas County School District history, board members were (found to have) violating law,” Ray said. “We need to document in such a way that protects the system from this happening again and I think part of that is telling the story and the truth.”
In addition to the admission, Ray suggested the resolution be more robust and include a timeline of major events in the lawsuit, the fact that the district’s insurance would not pay for the lawsuit and an acknowledgement that Marshall won.
While many of Ray’s proposed changes were made, Meek motioned to add to the resolution that the board would evaluate itself for policy adherence moving forward, but it failed 5-2.
During the conversation, Meek and Ray sought more accountability from the board, asking members what they learned from the lawsuit and how the board could do better in the future.
Peterson said he did learn more about the Colorado Open Meetings Law.
“I certainly would not have gone about the termination of the superintendent in the way that I did, so that’s a huge lesson learned for me,” he said.
Records requested by Colorado Community Media show that the district has paid $156,400 for its own legal costs between March 11, 2022, and August 10, 2023, to defend the lawsuit.