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Judge hears open records request

NICOLE FORMOSAsummit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE – District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle heard arguments Wednesday afternoon in a case that will eventually determine whether or not the town of Breckenridge must release the terms of a confidential settlement agreement between the town and a former police sergeant.The case revolves around the Colorado Open Records Act, and a Freedom of Information request from the Summit Daily News to access the amount the town paid former sergeant Roman Stachniw in an October 2005 settlement.The town fired Stachniw in August 2002. Nearly two years later, he filed a lawsuit against the town, Police Chief Rick Holman, Assistant Chief Dave Miller and assistant town manager Kate Boniface for job discrimination.The case settled in Federal Court in Denver on Oct. 13, 2005, four days before it was set to go to trial.The Summit Daily News requested the full amount the town paid Stachniw, and received a letter from town clerk Mary Jean Loufek saying the documents were “confidential and privileged communications.”Loufek divulged that the town paid a $1,000 to its insurance company, which was paying for its defense in the case.The Summit Daily News, represented by Faegre and Benson, LLP, responded with a letter giving the town three days to release the information, or else face a lawsuit.The town then filed suit against the paper’s saying the records should not be disclosed.On Wednesday, the town’s attorney Steven Dawes argued that the financial information should not be released because the amount could set a benchmark, and encourage others to sue the town.Assistant town manager Boniface testified the town has had other claims filed by former or current employees that were not kept confidential, which became fodder for discussions about how to get money from the town.”It’s difficult to conduct our business when speculation of misinformation is being distributed on the street and we don’t get to respond and tell our side of the story, and we think that contributed to certain people looking at the town as an easy mark because we quote unquote have money,” Boniface said.Boniface testified that there have been six claims filed against the town in the past six years, three of which turned into lawsuits that eventually settled. Stachniw’s was the only settlement that both parties agreed would be confidential.The paper’s attorney, Jennifer Collins, rebutted that the settlement agreement is part of the public record, and according to the Colorado Open Records Act, when a member of the public, such as the paper, requests access to such records, the government entity must disclose the information.In 2002, Stachniw was fired for being untruthful with the police department management about an extramarital affair with a co-worker’s wife. Stachniw alleged he was fired in retaliation for making inappropriate and untimely statements in regards to a separate court case.That case was filed in December 2001 by former employee Rebecca Johnson, who sued the police department, Stachniw and Miller alleging gender discrimination.At a meeting between the defendants and their lawyers regarding the lawsuit, Stachniw expressed an opinion that the issues raised in the case were legitimate and needed to be addressed by the town and the department.Boniface approved Stachniw’s termination in her position as assistant manager.A decision on the current case should come later this spring or early summer.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at nformosa@summitdaily.com


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