Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who Is the Client

Legally, Colorado Springs Utilities does not exist.  Neither does Memorial Hospital nor, for that matter, even the city streets division.  Legally speaking, the only entity that exists is the City of Colorado Springs.  For decades, the city attorney has represented the City of Colorado Springs.  Although appointed by the city council, the city attorneys have long enjoyed the broad confidence and support of the mayor and council.  So much so, that they have been free to provide legal advice that has focused on what the law is, and what is in the best interests of the city, and not any particular individual.  This independence has worked to the city’s advantage.  Over the past ten to fifteen years, Patricia Kelly has been the City attorney and has hired and maintained an outstanding staff.  (Just ask Doug Bruce what his winning record is against the city.)  (Hint: it’s almost an O-fer.) 

All this is about to change.  Coming in June, the new mayor will appoint a city attorney, who will serve at his pleasure alone.  By implication, all of the attorneys working in the city attorney’s office will be serving at the mayor’s pleasure.  The city attorney will then be forced to resolve an issue:  Who is the client?  The City of Colorado Springs, or the mayor, who holds the paycheck in his hands?  The consequences for the type of representation is huge and is likely to shift radically.  No longer will the city attorney be focused on what is in the city’s best interests, but on how to advance the mayor’s agenda.  If the mayor’s wife gets a speeding ticket, how does the attorney’s office proceed?  Louis XIV reportedly said: “I am the State.”  As Colorado Springs moves towards a strong mayor form of government, will the mayor be able to distinguish himself from the city he serves?

Randy Purvis

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