Denver 420 Rally Founder Sues City and County of Denver

Civic Center Park the morning after this year's Denver 420 Rally.
Civic Center Park the morning after this year's Denver 420 Rally. Photo by Michael Roberts
As promised, Miguel Lopez, founder of the Denver 420 Rally, has filed a lawsuit against the City and County of Denver after losing his priority event status and being banned from putting on the event during the next three years for allegedly violating his permit by leaving Civic Center Park trashed. Attorney Rob Corry, who represents Lopez, calls Denver's actions "improper" and maintains that officials manipulated the reaction to the park's condition following the April 20, 2017, edition as a strategy to violate his client's rights.

"The city created the negative publicity," Corry says about the suit, which is accessible below along with two additional documents. "Denver teed this up as a PR strategy from the beginning and stoked the flames of this made-up trash issue. Of course there was trash on the ground during a certain period of time. You don't have 100,000 people in a park without some trash. But we cleaned it up within our deadline, and then the city whipped up this response. And we can prove it."

The situation is complicated, given that Corry represents both Lopez and Michael Ortiz, who was awarded the permit for the rally after the aforementioned ban. Moreover, Corry confirms that Lopez and Ortiz are negotiating for the right to use the Denver 420 Rally name, which he contends was "pioneered" by the former. However, he notes that "the deadline for filing this case was Friday [December 14]. So we filed to preserve Miguel Lopez's ability to challenge the denial of his priority status and the prohibition on him applying."

If Lopez wins the case, would Ortiz then be put in the position of filing a suit of his own? "I don't see it that way," Corry replies. "If Miguel Lopez prevails in this case — which is a strong possibility, because Denver doesn't really have any facts to stand on — he'll get the permit, because he has priority status. So Michael Ortiz wouldn't really have the ability to challenge a Denver District Court finding against the City and County of Denver. But if Miguel Lopez doesn't prevail in this lawsuit, then Michael Ortiz has the permit and will proceed."

click to enlarge Attorney Rob Corry and Denver 420 Rally founder Miguel Lopez. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
Attorney Rob Corry and Denver 420 Rally founder Miguel Lopez.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Corry adds that talks between Lopez and Ortiz haven't been put on hold until the suit is resolved. "They're discussing this and trying to come to an accommodation that works for everybody, and that's going to continue." He didn't seek a temporary restraining order because "that's for imminent, irreparable harm, and that's not the case here. But what we do request is declaratory relief in court, asking that Denver be overruled and Miguel Lopez be given back his permit and priority status to put on the Denver 420 Rally."

Immediately after the brouhaha over the most recent rally, Lopez and Corry stressed that the permit gave organizers until the next day to clean up Civic Center Park. But that morning, photos and footage of the trash were widely disseminated, leading to a public outcry and statements bemoaning the situation from Mayor Michael Hancock, among others. According to Corry, none of this happened organically.

"We even have emails to journalists," he allows. "We got all of that through the Colorado Open Records Act."

At this point, Corry's best-case scenario in regard to the suit is a resolution within weeks. "Denver needs to prepare the record. I'm not sure we need a transcript of the administrative hearing," during which Lopez's appeal was denied, "but Denver may claim we do. We're going to talk about that. I think we can have a hearing in Denver District Court within thirty days, but if it takes longer, it takes longer."

The bottom line from Corry's persective? "Miguel Lopez complied with all aspects of the permit that was granted him. Denver is in the wrong here, and Miguel Lopez wants to stand up for his rights."

Click to read Miguel Lopez v. City and County of Denver, as well as a summons in the case and an accompanying document.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts