DOWN BY LAW

THE CITY'S CONTENTIOUS TOP LAWYER COURTS POLITICAL TROUBLE.SECRET AGENT DAN HE'S YOUR CITY ATTORNEY. BUT DAN MUSE SAYS YOU'RE NOT HIS CLIENT.

(Records, however, show that Muse was continuing a practice already in place when he arrived. During the last two and half years of the Pena administration, the city retained 31 outside law firms. Pena city attorneys Steve Kaplan and Patricia Wells declined comment for this article.)

Muse blames DIA and other "extraordinary" circumstances for his large legal bills. The Washington firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow, for instance, has received more than $5 million from the city during Webb's reign, all of it to help settle complex litigation over pollution at the Lowry Landfill. Another $2 million went to the Denver firm of Opperman & Associates to represent the city in condemnation proceedings at DIA. "These expenditures have saved Denver taxpayers more than $400 million" by making possible favorable settlements for the city, Muse claims.

Muse doesn't dispute that some of the firms who have won city business have close ties to him and Webb. But he dismisses that as irrelevant. "I know virtually everybody in this legal community," Muse says. "I don't think it's a fair criticism to say that people who happen to be friends of the mayor should be disqualified from getting city business if they're good firms. Judge them by the quality of their work."

A few firms, however, have received city contracts despite problematic histories. Tyrone Holt was named to the DIA bond team in 1991 even though large tax debts had driven him into bankruptcy several years earlier. Months later, the Colorado Supreme Court suspended Holt from practice for drug use and income-tax evasion. The law firm of Trimble & Nulan, co-owned by Muse's old law partner King Trimble, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city even though Darrell Nulan, Trimble's current partner, was suspended from practice for sixty days in 1992 for misusing money from a client trust account.

Muse says he didn't know about Holt's drug and tax troubles--and fired him the minute they came to light. And he says Nulan's transgression wasn't serious enough to bar Trimble & Nulan from working for the city. "He made one mistake in twenty years," Muse says. "He made a mistake and he paid."

In February 1991, just a few months before Wellington Webb's election as mayor, Dan Muse's 22-year marriage to Channel 4 newscaster Reynelda Ware Muse was coming to an end. Muse and his wife had been living apart for two years and had worked out the terms of their separation agreement in anticipation of a final divorce decree. There was only one problem: Neither wanted the details of their financial affairs to become a matter of public record. That month, the couple filed a joint motion in Denver District Court asking Judge Lynne Hufnagel to shield their financial affidavits and private papers from the media and other prying eyes--even though that information is usually made public in divorce files.

The papers might make interesting reading. Reynelda Muse had been one of 22 influential Denverites picked to be local stockholders of Mile-Hi Cablevision before the company was awarded Denver's first cable franchise in 1982. (King Trimble, then a Denver city councilman, headed the city's cable selection committee.) Some of Mile-Hi's stockholders made huge profits when the company was bought by cable giant Telecommunications Inc. in 1990. Dan Muse, furthermore, had been a shareholder in an airport concessions partnership controlled by controversial Denver businessman King Harris, whose various companies have won millions of dollars in city contracts over the years. (Muse has said he sold his interest in Airport Concessions Inc. shortly before he was named city attorney and now recuses himself from all city matters involving Harris.)

The Muses' interest in keeping their financial information private outweighed the public's right to inspect the file, argued the couple in their divorce motion. And Hufnagel acceded to the rare request--ruling the Muses' financial papers off limits to everyone except them, their attorneys and the court.

Muse has been secretive about more than just his personal affairs. Repeatedly during his term as city attorney, he has worked to keep information about the legal business of the city out of the reach of Denver taxpayers.

In 1993, for instance, Muse secretly settled a lawsuit against more than three dozen corporations that had contributed to the pollution of Denver's Lowry Landfill. Muse refused to reveal details of the settlement to either the media or the city council, making it impossible to verify his claim that it was negotiated "under very favorable terms to the city."

"The fact that you can't take a look at the numbers is of no consequence to me," Muse told a Post reporter. "I don't care."

Recently, the Rocky Mountain News revealed that Muse had agreed to secretly settle a lawsuit between the city and the Deline family, owners of thirteen square miles of farmland condemned for use at DIA. After years of fighting the Delines in court, the city agreed to pay almost $27 million for the property in 1992 but tried to keep that figure hidden, the paper said. Lynne Hufnagel, by coincidence, was the judge who agreed to seal the file from public view. The Delines' reason for wanting the settlement closed, the paper said, was that making it public would create a security risk for members of the family--even though newspapers had already published stories noting that a judge had initially valued the property at $38 million.

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