Update, Monday December 4, 4:30 pm: The United States District Court has withdrawn the case with prejudice. A statement from the Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has been added to the bottom of this piece.
If you happened to be gazing at the U.S. Education Department building, at the corner of 20th and Champa streets, between 5 and 5:45 p.m. on Friday, December 1, you would have noticed something unusual.
Projected in large letters onto the building were a sequence of phrases:
“Colorado River. Rights of Nature”
“Water is a Right”
“RESPECT EXISTENCE OR EXPECT RESISTANCE”
Across the street, at the Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse, a group of two dozen environmental protesters looked on with pride at their mischief…until federal police shut down the projector.
The demonstration, organized in part by Deep Green Resistance, supported a unique suit filed on behalf of the Colorado River — in which the Colorado River was listed as the plaintiff.
As we’ve reported, Colorado River v. State of Colorado represented a first-of-its-kind case in federal court, in which a number of human representatives — and Denver-based lawyer Jason Flores-Williams — were attempting to establish “personhood” for the Colorado River and give it, and other natural resources, legal standing to sue corporations, states and individuals for violating rights to “exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored and naturally evolve.”
But in a surprise move, Flores-Williams says that he must withdraw the case this week.
On Saturday, one day after the protest, the lawyer told Westword that he could not go forward with the litigation because of serious threats of sanctions from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which warned that it would level him and his law office with financial penalties — and even the possibility of Flores-Williams's disbarment — on the grounds that his “rights of nature” case is unlawful and frivolous.
"I'm not Donald Trump. I don't take losses and try to spin them into victories. I look at facts straightforwardly and deal with them like a man. A great victory here would have been some rights conferred on the Colorado River, but we're not there yet. So, that's a loss. That said, we have introduced this important legal doctrine into the American consciousness, which is a victory. The best thing we can do now for the River and the birth of this doctrine is withdraw the complaint, avoid a lengthy sanctions battle, and vigorously continue the fight for justice going forward."
On Monday, after the United States District Court withdrew the case, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman issued this statement:
“The United States District Court has dismissed with prejudice the Colorado River Ecosystem's Amended Complaint against Colorado. The Colorado River Ecosystem asked for the dismissal after my office filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. Under the terms of dismissal, the case cannot be brought again in federal court. I do not doubt the personal convictions of those groups and individuals who claimed to speak on behalf of the ecosystem. However, the case itself unacceptably impugned the State’s sovereign authority to administer natural resources for public use, and was well beyond the jurisdiction of the judicial branch of government. After my office presented counsel with these and other realities, he readied and wisely chose to withdraw the case. Colorado has always been a national leader in preserving our environment, and we will continue to protect and administer its natural resources as guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.