By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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"He's a fine lawyer," says Edward Bendelow, one of Muse's former law partners from the 1980s. Bendelow says he's been following the flap over Debevoise & Plimpton's legal bills in the papers over the last few months--and insists that Muse is getting a bad rap. "He's doing the job that he has to do as an attorney for his client," Bendelow says. Even some of the Webb administration's staunchest critics say they have nothing personal against Muse. "I think he's a good, competent attorney," says city councilwoman Ramona Martinez, a Webb enemy who rarely turns down a chance to lambaste the mayor.
But others are less impressed. Bill Schroer, former head of the Colorado Energy Advocacy Office, says Muse gave a far-from-stellar performance during his stint on the utilities commission. Schroer's job was to represent the state's low-income residents before the agency, and he spent many hours in front of the commissioners as they mulled utility rate hikes and other matters that would affect his clients. Not only did Muse seem uninterested in the work, Schroer says, but he sometimes fell asleep in the middle of PUC proceedings, a habit that earned him the unflattering nickname of "Commissioner Snooze."
"We saw it more than once," says Schroer, who now heads a lobbying group called the Colorado Business Alliance. "We put everything into our work, and we expected a public servant to do the same. When you see someone snoozing, it puts a seed of doubt in your mind."
Muse, however, has been wide awake when it comes to protecting the interests of Wellington Webb. City Hall critics say he's so blinded by politics that he ignores the law when necessary in order to aid the mayor. "What I see from the top is that the advice is political and not necessarily legal," says DeGroot. She cites an incident in 1993, when Muse's office, she says, joined Webb in blocking her and Ramona Martinez from viewing city documents relating to controversial concession contracts at DIA. Martinez and DeGroot complained publicly, and the mayor quickly relented.
Last year the Denver Post reported that Muse had stifled a report by a city investigator that accused former Webb aide Charles Rutland of possible criminal acts, including giving a city contract to one of his friends. Muse decided not to forward the report to the Denver district attorney, even though DA Bill Ritter later said the city attorney's office had no jurisdiction in the matter. (After the Post story came out, Ritter demanded a copy of the report but found no evidence of wrongdoing on Rutland's part.)
"On a personality basis, he [Muse] is really a nice guy," says city councilman Ted Hackworth, a supporter of city auditor and mayoral candidate Bob Crider and a frequent Webb critic. But "it's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when we get into the political arena. He makes a lot of political decisions, not decisions based on law."
April Snook claims Muse has gone so far as to engage in political retribution against his own employees. An assistant city attorney, Snook recently learned she was being transferred to traffic court from her job in the Department of Excise and Licenses. Snook calls the move "an unbearable demotion." In a personnel grievance filed with the city's Career Service Authority, Snook claims that she's being targeted for her work on DeGroot's campaign. "I think his arrogance gets in the way of his doing his job," Snook says of Muse. "He can't handle any kind of confrontation. It's a personal issue with him."
In addition to Muse's "continuing pattern of retaliation" against her, Snook has also accused Muse of "unwelcome verbal conduct of a sexual nature." As she left a 1992 meeting in Muse's office, Snook claims in her grievance, Muse looked her up and down and asked her if she worked out. Snook said she didn't, and Muse replied, "Looks good."
"Mr. Muse's comments could not possibly have been intended in any manner other than sexual, and they did achieve their obvious intent," Snook alleges in her complaint. "I no longer schedule appointments with him to discuss my career."
Muse calls Snook's allegations "horseshit." He denies Snook has been demoted, saying that her transfer into traffic court is part of a rotation of attorneys that was planned long before her work for DeGroot became known. Other attorneys in the office agree. One, who asks not to be identified, calls Snook's claim "absolutely ridiculous" and says few of his colleagues take it seriously.
Laurie Kaczanowska, an assistant city attorney who has worked with Snook, also disputes Snook's claim that she is being punished for her political activities. "April's a friend of mine," she says. But Kaczanowska says that she too is openly supporting DeGroot and that no one has retaliated against her. "I haven't had any flak," Kaczanowska says. "It's known throughout the office, [but] nobody's come after me."
Hackworth and others also criticize Muse for politicizing the city's use of outside legal talent. According to Crider, Muse has spent close to $15 million on private lawyers during Webb's four-year term--more than Pena spent during his entire eight years in office. Muse, who claims the correct figure is $12.7 million, also has parceled out work to a large number of individual law firms. Records show the city retained 35 separate firms during Webb's first two and half years in office. One former senior city official, who requests anonymity, says Muse appears to be using his budget to create political debts to Webb throughout the city's legal community. "They're spreading the work around all over Denver," says the former official. "And that's deliberate."