Airport litigants want fees for lawyers

Attorneys for two Grand Junction Regional Airport tenants who filed a whistle blower lawsuit deserve to be paid for the role they played in cleaning up corruption at the airport, the tenants said in court filings.

Dave Shepard and Bill Marvel are seeking more than $301,000 for the attorneys involved in the case, which was filed in 2013 and set off a chain of events that culminated in the firing of the airport’s director of aviation and the halt of work on an administration building.

The airport responded that any payments to the attorneys should be “nominal” if not rejected entirely and in any case should be no more than $54,990.

The whistle blower lawsuit that Shepard and Marvel filed in 2013 was the result of frustration, they said in court papers related to the request for attorney fees and costs.

They had been unable to “eliminate corrupt management,” require proper financial audits, preserve general aviation facilities and “stop what were obvious ‘make-work’ federally funded projects,” an apparent reference to the $5 million security fence that borders the west, south and east sides of the airport, Shepard and Marvel said in the papers.

Grand Junction, Mesa County and the Airport Authority board “continued to allow the airport director, Rex Tippetts, free rein to run the airport as he saw fit,” the papers said.

The only avenue they perceived to deal with those issues was the filing of a whistleblower case, Shepard and Marvel said in the papers, which noted that they wanted to devote any award to their attorney and then to projects at the airport or to a charity.

“The airport board that served from 2011 to 2013 failed the citizens of Grand Junction. Their failure to perform resulted in the loss of many businesses, the squandering of $4 million on a still-uncompleted building, more than $1.5 million in legal fees — and a non-prosecution agreement, which required reforms, with the Department of Justice. Whatever the decision on fees may be, we appreciate that the federal judge in her decision commended us for bringing the suit against the airport — our motive was to restore good government,” Shepard said in a statement in which he and Marvel wished the current board well.

Whatever their motivation, the airport said in a response to Shepard and Marvel, any award of fees should apply only to “legal work related to the successful claims, in addition to being commensurate with the total recovery.”

Shepard and Marvel sought payment for matters unrelated to the filing of federal forms that wrongly claimed construction of the fence would have no effect on general aviation and businesses on airport property, the airport said in its response.

U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello in February 2016 upheld a $16,500 settlement of the civil whistleblower case. The recent filings were made in connection with that finding.

Marvel and Shepard had sought an award of more than $16 million.

While the airport made a false claim about the socioeconomic effects of the fence, no damage from the action could be readily proven, the airport said, noting that the evidence “showed minimal wrongdoing” by airport officials.

Had the Federal Aviation Administration been aware of the false filing, it still would have approved the fence, the court noted.

Shepard and Marvel sought more than $290,000 in fees and expense to Telluride attorney John Steele and an associate, as well as more than $9,000 in fees and expenses for a Denver law firm that assisted them.

There is no deadline for Arguello to rule on the request.


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