September 21, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Counties Not Liable for Attorney Fees to Defend Disciplinary Action Against District Attorney

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ruybalid v. Board of County Commissioners of Las Animas County on Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Ruybalid was the District Attorney for the Third Judicial District, and he admitted to serial violations of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct during his tenure as District Attorney. Ruybalid believed the counties should have defended him against his disciplinary actions, but the counties refused to pay for his attorney fees and costs. Ruybalid hired an attorney and entered into a settlement, admitting a pattern of discovery violations that led to the dismissal of criminal charges in several cases and stipulating that he did not diligently represent the people and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

After resolving the disciplinary action, Ruybalid filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the counties, seeking reimbursement of his attorney fees and costs incurred in defending the disciplinary action. The counties moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing Ruybalid had no right to fees and costs. Ruybalid countered that he had a statutory right to fees and costs, and also an equitable claim. The district court concluded that Ruybalid had failed to state a claim and had no right to fees and costs, and dismissed the complaint. Ruybalid appealed.

The court of appeals noted that the American Rule generally requires parties to pay their own fees and costs. Ruybalid argued that C.R.S. § 20-1-303 required the counties to pay his attorney fees, but the court of appeals disagreed, finding nothing in the rule to require the counties to pay attorney fees or costs. The court refused to infer an exception to the American Rule not explicitly authorized by statute. The court declined to consider the attorney fees and costs incurred in defending Ruybalid’s disciplinary action as “expenses necessarily incurred” in discharging a district attorney’s official duties. The court also noted that Ruybalid failed to allege any facts that tended to support that the expenses incurred were for the benefit of the counties.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

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