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Second attempt to settle sex offender lawsuit rejected

By Scott Harvey

Commerce – Following executive session Tuesday night, the Commerce City Council voted 3-2 to reject a settlement agreement resolving John Doe 7 vs. the City of Commerce lawsuit.

This is the second time council has opted not to settle its sex offender lawsuit since a mediation hearing between the two parties was held on April 30. Council took no action on the same proposed settlement on June 2.

On Tuesday, Councilman Richard Hill made a motion to reject the settlement and proceed with the litigation. The motion received a second from Councilwoman Billie Biggerstaff, becoming eligible for a vote. Both Hill and Biggerstaff, along with Councilman Tony Henry voted against the settlement, while Mayor Quay Throgmorton and Councilman Bob Monday voted in favor of it.

Throgmorton thought it would be best to settle, noting the money being spent on the lawsuit could be better used elsewhere. Councilman Monday agreed with Throgmorton, indicating the city has already spent $73,000 to date in attorney's fees, which is coming from the city's general fund.

Monday called the refusal to settle "utterly ridiculous," and would later describe the city as "business first, politics second.""

Hill would refute the notion, saying "I can't put business first on the lives and safety of our children."

The statement mirrors a previous comment Hill gave to KETR indicating he would not place a dollar value on the safety and welfare of the children in Commerce.

Councilman Hill also referred to the alleged person who has brought the case against the city, stating that a "Mr. Walker," has continued to brag about the settlement around town. He would also refer to a "Mr. Walker" a second time during the open session.

Councilwoman Biggerstaff referred to the citizens who had previously called her and or approached her requesting the city not settle the lawsuit. She also spoke of KETR's recent coverage of the lawsuit, questioning how the radio station obtained information that she was present at the mediation hearing held in April.

KETR confirmed back in June from both City Manager Dion Miller and Mayor Throgmorton that Biggerstaff was present at the mediation hearing. Also in attendance representing the city were Miller, Throgmorton and Attorneys Jim McLeroy and Joe Tooley.

Hill also referenced KETR's coverage, saying that despite stories of the lawsuit broadcast on KETR, no one has approached him indicating a desire that the city settle, whereas several individuals had previously expressed wishes not to settle.

"We cannot bow down, we cannot settle with this person," said Hill.

Biggerstaff said despite the attorney's recommendation to the council to settle, she still did not agree with the action. According to Hill, the attorneys are bound by the mediation document to recommend a settlement.

Litigation will now continue in the case and proceed to trial which, according to City Attorney Jim McLeroy, has now been moved from November, 2009 to August, 2010.

It had previously been stated that if the litigation went to trial in November it could cost the city as much as $200,000 in taxpayer money. That figure will likely increase with another year before trial.

There have been two previous opportunities to settle the case. The most recent opportunity was in June, when no action was taken following a request for a motion to settle. Tuesday's agenda item was reportedly the same as the one in June, but just revisited by the council, according to Hill.

John Doe 7 vs. City of Commerce was filed a few months following the passage of a sex offender ordinance in November, 2007.

According to Attorney for John Doe 7 David Davis, the lawsuit was filed to challenge what his client felt was an overreaching ordinance with unconstitutional restrictions.