Judge awards $108K in legal fees in airport case
Grand Junction Regional Airport is on the hook for more than $108,000 in an award of attorney fees to two tenants whose whistleblower claim sparked an investigation that paralyzed the airport for more than a year.
U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello awarded the attorney fees to Dave Shepard and Bill Marvel, who filed a whistleblower suit in 2013 in connection with work being done at the airport, including construction of a fence along the airport’s western, eastern and southern borders.
Ultimately, the airport was required to pay more than $500,000 back to the Federal Aviation Administration in connection with the fence project after it was determined that airport officials had falsely claimed compliance with federal planning regulations.
The airport has enough cash to make the $108,615.96 award, said board Chairman Rick Taggart, also the mayor of Grand Junction.
The full board will consider whether to appeal the finding during an already scheduled closed session next week, Taggart said.
“It’s never fun to write a check,” Taggart said, “but this puts an end to it.”
Shepard and Marvel are “appreciative of all the government’s actions,” including work on a non-prosecution agreement between the U.S. Justice Department and the airport authority, “the court’s commendation to us for reporting wrongdoing — and now, the awarding of attorney fees,” Shepard said in a statement.
“We hope that in the future, local officials will not turn a deaf ear when citizens come forward, so that problems may be solved at the local level. Now it is time to move our airport forward for the benefit of the community,” Shepard said.
Arguello previously awarded Shepard and Marvel $16,500 as an award in the whistleblower case.
The airport had previously offered to settle the case for $100,000, so the final award and attorney fees came close to what the airport was willing to pay originally, Taggart said.
Shepard and Marvel originally sought an award of $16,500,000, based on the possibility of treble damages included in the federal whistleblower law.
“I believe (Shepard and Marvel) did bring important factors to the front” said Rick Wagner, a Grand Junction attorney who served as chairman of the authority’s litigation committee during much of the time the authority was negotiating with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The $16,500 award was appropriate, but the airport board did the difficult job of dealing with several agencies while being under a microscope, Wagner said.
The airport board, Wagner said, “did the important work that got done.”