Sloan’s Lake lawsuit moves to Colorado Court of Appeals

By Larry Ambrose

Lawsuits originally filed against the City of Denver and EnviroFinance Group (EFG), developer of the old St. Anthony Hospital site, to stop the development of up to 12 story buildings on 17th Avenue across from Sloan’s Lake Park, have moved to the Colorado Court of Appeals with legal representation by attorney Gregory Kerwin from the Denver office of the international law firm of Gibson Dunn.  The law suits were originally filed in March and December of 2015 by long-time NW Denver resident and attorney, David R. Medina who represented the Plaintiff’s in the suit, the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association and nearby residents’ pro bono publico (without charge for the public good).

Mr. Medina passed away unexpectedly on September 26, 2016.  Originally from Pueblo, David rose from the ranks as a carpenter to become business manager for the Carpenters Union.  After attending law school at the University of Nebraska he served as an Assistant District Attorney in Pueblo and labor union lawyer. He is survived by his children who grew up in NW Denver, Tone and Jose Medina and Olga Avila as well as many loving grandchildren.

The lawsuits challenge the February 17, 2015 and November 23, 2015 Denver City Council decisions to approve rezoning of two square blocks across from Sloan’s Lake Park for 8-to-12 story luxury high rise condominiums and apartments. The basis for the suits has been the resident’s contention that the City Council decisions were not consistent with a prior City Council approved and adopted plan stemming from a two-year community based planning process in 2005 and 2006.  The primary feature of that plan called for taller buildings and high-density to be placed close to West Colfax and away from Sloan’s Lake Park.

In order to overturn a zoning decision by Denver City Council, a Plaintiff must show the City of Denver erred as a matter of law, and abused its discretion, in failing correctly to enforce the Denver Zoning Code’s requirement that zoning changes be consistent with “adopted plans.”  However, Denver District Court Judge Eric Elliff ruled against the neighborhood Plaintiffs giving Denver unlimited discretion to adopt any zoning change, regardless of obvious conflicts with adopted plans, by deferring to the Denver City Council’s own “judgment in determining if the amendments are consistent with the relevant guidance.”

The precedent being set in this case is, therefore, of citywide importance.  The issue at stake here is that, inasmuch as where there is a community based planning process that results in a plan that is adopted by City Council as an ordinance and which becomes part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, can the Council ignore and not follow that plan when considering a future rezoning request? The Plaintiffs in this case maintain that to allow the City Council to ignore specific requirements in adopted neighborhood plans will make meaningless, community involvement in the planning process. 

Meanwhile, the block bounded by Stuart Street on the west and Raleigh on the east and 16th and 17th Avenues on the south and north, touted by its developer/promoter NAVA Development as the “Lakehouse” features a sales office with fancy models of the high-rise development with units selling for more than $ 1 million and for more than $ 600 per square foot.  It is not clear, however, that NAVA has actually purchased the land from EFG and groundbreaking is not scheduled until spring of 2017.  The same is true of the block just to the east along 17th Avenue which is to be developed by Houston based Hines Development.  It appears that the land has yet to transfer title from EFG to Hines and groundbreaking is not scheduled until the summer of 2017.

Larry Ambrose is Vice President of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association.  A copy of the Opening Brief to the Colorado Court of Appeals referenced above is available as an October 7 post on the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association Facebook page. 

The post Sloan’s Lake lawsuit moves to Colorado Court of Appeals appeared first on North Denver Tribune.

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Denver court appointed special advocates


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WEST HIGHLAND—The most important reason that Heidi Hoback volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is because she has a heart for kids. “Especially those who are marginalized in our society and don’t have the resources other kids do,” said the West Highland resident.

Nancy Stewart, Denver CASA’s Executive Director, said, “CASAs are assigned by the court to a child or children who are in the court system because they have been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect.”

“The role of the CASA is to meet frequently with the child and develop a trusting relationship,” said Hoback, the mother of two grown children. “The CASA visits the school to check on attendance, truancy, mental or physical health needs or other issues.

“I try to meet them at least once a week. I’m in contact with their teachers and know if they are in speech therapy or OT or PT, and I meet with those people as well. I check to confirm they’ve attended doctor appointments.”

“In Colorado, every child is assigned a guardian ad litem (GAL), so they have their own attorney,” Stewart said. GALs are court-appointed to represent and protect the interest of a minor. She said, “There’s also a caseworker assigned to the case. But a GAL and caseworker could have 50 cases at any given time. The CASA is unique because he or she is focused only on the one case.

“A CASA is an official designee of the court and as such is part of the whole team that represents the family in the court.  The CASA provides a written report of what they’ve seen and heard, the status of the child, any recommendations they might have. During the hearing, the judge goes around the room and gets recommendations from the guardian ad litem, parents’ attorneys and the CASA.”

Hoback has had two cases. Her first case was a family of three children living with their mother but surrounded by issues of domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse. “As you talk to the kids, you get a feel for what’s going on,” she said. “The sixteen-year-old shared a lot about issues at school, health issues, her goals and dreams. Her brother was eight and had many mental issues; he just needed someone to be positive and supportive around him.

“CASAs might present things to the court that the GAL doesn’t know about, for instance, asking for money from the court to go to the beauty salon to have a teen’s hair done. That might not seem necessary, but it sure is something that could light up a teenager’s life.”

“In some cases, children remain in the home as the case progresses,” said Stewart, “and some children are removed from the home and placed in foster care. If a child is removed from his home, Denver’s Department of Human Services works very hard to place him with a family member, in a kinship home. Some kids are placed in group homes; it just depends on circumstances and availability.

  “The court doesn’t want children languishing in a temporary home. The goal of the court is to find a permanent, safe home for the child as quickly as possible. The ideal goal is to return the child to her family.”

Hoback’s second case involves a five-year-old Navajo girl who falls under the jurisdiction of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). “She has kinship placement,” Hoback said. “She’s living with her grandmother right now.” The tribe has jurisdiction in this case and must be kept in the loop of all court proceedings.

“ICWA provides guidance to states regarding the handling of child abuse and neglect and adoption cases involving Native children, and sets minimum standards for the handling of these cases,” according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs website:

“What the child gets from my visits is stability,” said Hoback. “She has had three different GALs. She doesn’t verbalize very well, but her mood picks up when we talk. We talk about who her friends are, what she did this weekend; and we practice numbers and talk about how to do fun things on the playground.”

CASA volunteers undergo about 40 hours of initial training over a six-week period, meeting once a week. “Our volunteers are highly trained,” Stewart said. A training session is currently underway and five more will be presented next year, starting January 21.

The training emphasizes the obligation of being the voice of the child in court; of having compassion and an understanding of cultural differences; and understanding the roles of all players on the team. The training gives volunteers real-life scenarios for decision-making. “Not every case is cut and dried,” Stewart said. “There will be things that come up that a CASA hasn’t faced before. The responsibility of the staff is to give CASAs the tools they need to be successful in a case.

“Once the CASA is assigned a case, the minimal expectation is that they meet with the child at least twice a month. We encourage them to do things beyond that, to meet with teachers, meet with other team members and become really involved with the case.

“We have between 100 and 150 active CASAs at any one time. The Department of Human Services says that at any given time about 1000 kids are in the Denver Court System under abuse and neglect cases. 438 children received CASA services in 2015. Our goal is to serve every kid who needs a CASA, and that would be about 1000 by the year 2020.”

The idea for CASA started in 1977, when Seattle Superior Court judge David Soukup believed that children needed more support as they moved through the dependency and neglect system. He also felt that someone had to speak directly for them during the process. Since then, the idea of a CASA has expanded into 49 states [watch this short YouTube video from Judge Soukup:

CASA started 21 years ago in Denver. Stewart says Denver residents are fortunate because Denver judges and magistrates assigned to the juvenile court are not moved around. In other judicial systems, judges can be moved every couple of years between different courts. “Our judges have gotten to know the CASAs,” she said. “They respect the organization, they come to our events and they swear in our CASAs after training sessions.

“CASAs need to understand the importance of being part of the whole team,” Stewart said. “They need to be patient and willing to work within the system. They should be empathetic and have very open eyes to understand cultural and socio-economic differences.”

Hoback said, “One of the basic requirements for success is to be self-aware. CASA training emphasizes being aware of your biases, which may be so hidden in ourselves that we don’t know they exist. It’s necessary to be open to anyone and anything. Having a heart and passion for kids is huge.

CASA receives most of its funding through philanthropic dollars. It gets some funding from the state legislature. “We are a line item in the state budget and have to be approved every couple of years,” Stewart said. “That money is divided between the 16 CASA programs in Colorado. We get some grants from the state and federal Office of Victims Assistance. The rest of the funding comes from individual donors, corporate sponsors and family foundations.”

To volunteer, donate or learn more about CASA, call 303-832-4592 or visit

The post Denver court appointed special advocates appeared first on North Denver Tribune.

North Denver Tribune

Hancock fills three county court spots

Hancock fills three county court spots
Mayor Hancock today announced the appointments of Adam Espinosa, Olympia Fay and Theresa Spahn as judges to the Denver County Court. The appointments will fill vacancies created by the retirements of Judge Larry Bohning, Judge Mary A. Celeste …
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