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Blackburned

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"To us, it was pretty clear that they were out to get this guy from day one," says another juror, Fred Gibson, a semi-retired money manager who lives in Castle Rock. "The only thing that took time in the deliberation was figuring out how much to award the plaintiff."


Since the matter is still under his jurisdiction, Judge Blackburn is prohibited from commenting publicly on the Cadorna case outside of his rulings. Denver City Attorney David Fine, who left private practice to join the Hickenlooper team last month, declined to respond to several specific questions, noting that a second trial is still pending.

According to Fine, his office has already spent more than 400 hours defending the lawsuit, as well as $38,000 on the services of outside counsel from Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber involved in the post-trial motions. Asked why, if Brennan's misconduct was as "pervasive and egregious" as the city attorney's office now claims, the defense didn't ask for a mistrial before the case was sent to the jury, Fine says he doesn't want to comment on "trial strategy."

Unlike Blackburn's ill-fated effort to dismiss the CU recruiting-scandal case, his order for a new trial is not appealable to a higher court without approval of the trial judge. Brennan has asked to appeal the ruling, and Blackburn has refused to allow the appeal to go forward. So now, Cadorna and his attorney face the prospect of a new trial in front of Blackburn. "It's not out of the question that he could put us in a state of continuous Groundhog Days, in which we live the same case over and over," Brennan says. "This is a great gift to the City and County of Denver."

Although he says he's "greatly disillusioned" by his experiences as an attorney, Brennan insists he's fully prepared to take the case to trial again. "I did everything I was supposed to do," he says. "I did what these great bullshitters, the leading members of the bar in this town, say you're supposed to do on behalf of your client. And my reward for it is to be publicly defamed by Judge Blackburn."

Assistant City Attorney Lujan recently sent a letter to Brennan, indicating that his office was interested in reopening settlement negotiations. But Lujan also suggested that Brennan might have to step down as Cadorna's attorney first, as he has a potential ethical conflict with his client. If the case is settled for less than the $1.2 million Cadorna was awarded by the jury, he might be able to sue Brennan for the difference, since the attorney's conduct cost him the higher amount. Ergo, Brennan has an "incentive" not to settle the case, even if it's in his client's best interest to do so.

"In my view, it's an unethical threat, intended to intimidate us into rolling over for a settlement," Brennan says. "They know quite well I'm the only lawyer in town who would take this case."

Although Cadorna has refinanced his house to try to keep up with his legal fees and other debts, he says his faith in Brennan is unshaken: "I still trust him as much as I trust anybody in the world."

He has worked odd jobs since his retirement, nothing steady. "I've gone back almost to the point of hiding in my house again," he says. "How am I going to tell someone when I apply for a job that I got fired from the fire department for stealing a cookbook?"

Cadorna won't rule out a possible settlement, in part because the idea of going back to trial in Blackburn's court is so daunting. "It's like being trapped in a circus," he says. "It seems like I'm going around and around and around, and every time I grab the ring, it gets jerked away from me."

The jurors feel like something got jerked away from them, too. For Blackburn to come forward more than a year after the trial and claim they'd been prejudiced by Brennan's performance is insulting, they say. When they met with the judge right after the verdict, he raised no such concerns with them. Gibson recalls thanking the judge for keeping Brennan in line, an unmistakable signal that the jury wasn't nearly as enamored of the attorney as Blackburn's order suggests.

"There's always theatrics involved, but that's part of a trial," says Kelly. "I don't think Brennan swayed us. He'd obviously done a lot of work investigating the whole thing. Those two lawyers for the city — they were terrible. Brennan won that trial."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast