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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Developers Can’t Pursue Political Conspiracy Suit

(CN) - A weekly newspaper does not have to face claims that it conspired with a small-town mayor to foil an annexation vote, a Denver federal judge ruled, saying the allegations are "futile" even after five attempts to amend.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger ended a controversy that had simmered in the small town of Buena Vista since at least 2005.

Meadows at Buena Vista and Lonesome Pine Holdings had been trying to have the central Colorado town annex a 277-acre parcel of land. After years of fighting and debate that centered on the plot's water rights, the town's board of trustees put the proposed annexation to referendum in 2008. The issue failed, and the Meadows and Lonesome Pine Holdings subsequently sued the town, Mayor Cara Russell and the Arkansas Valley Publishing Company (AVPC), which publishs the Chaffee County Times.

The developers claimed that Russell and the newspaper, published every Wednesday in Buena Vista, had conspired to doom the annexation. Russell wrote a weekly column that urged voters to defeat the issue, but the developers allegedly could not respond in kind before the election.

Opposition to the referendum on the paper's editorial pages was further evidence of the conspiracy, according to the complaint. The developers also claimed that a Times reporter had signed a petition opposing the issue, that the mayor had helped write the column's headline, and that the paper had previously failed to report on the mayor's alleged conflicts of interest.

After the court admitted no less than five amended complaints over the years, a magistrate judge eventually recommended denying the developers' latest motion to amend. Judge Krieger adopted that recommendation on Feb. 15, dismissing all of the claims with prejudice as the plaintiffs have failed to show any evidence of conspiracy.

"The court appreciates that these actions create suspicion, but taking them as true, they are insufficient to plausibly show a conspiracy between AVPC and the mayor," she wrote. "There is no identification of a specific person or people who entered into an agreement with the mayor, how such person or persons is related to or acted for AVPC, when such agreement was entered into, or what its objective was. At most, the facts show that the mayor, one reporter and the editorial staff of the Times opposed ballot issue and someone at the Times agreed to publish the mayor's opinion."

"This being the plaintiffs' fifth attempt to amend their complaint since the inception of the action in the state court, and they acknowledge is there final attempt to do so, the motion to amend is denied on the grounds that the assertion of such claims is futile," Krieger wrote.

The whole controversy seems to have been for not. According to The Mountain Mail in Salida, Colo., which is also owned by Arkansas Valley Publishing, Buena Vista's town trustees eventually approved the annexation a year after it was defeated, but the companies never did anything with the land. Lonesome Pine filed for bankruptcy in 2010, according to the newspaper.

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