Denver District Court Judge Will Rule on Initiative 303 Suit This Weekend

The lawsuit involves the timing of sweeps.
The lawsuit involves the timing of sweeps. Evan Semón
A Denver District Court judge expects to rule this weekend on a City of Denver lawsuit focusing on aspects of Initiative 303 related to enforcement of the camping ban.

"I am going to try to get something out as quickly as possible on this, probably this weekend. Keep your eye out for that," Judge Daryll F. Shockley said during an October 29 hearing. "Hopefully by Sunday. I think this does deserve an answer one way or another as quickly as possible, since the election is Tuesday."

On October 15, the City of Denver filed suit in Denver District Court against Garrett Flicker, the sponsor of Initiative 303, trying to block provisions of the measure that would allow a Denver resident to sue the city if it doesn’t respond to a citizen complaint about a homeless encampment and “take enforcement action” within 72 hours.

"Administrative or executive powers are reserved for the executive branch," Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson argued during the October 29 hearing, adding that the initiative's 72-hour provision would unconstitutionally intrude on the Denver executive branch's authority regarding its "uniquely administrative function of enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance."

Flicker, the chair of the Denver Republican Party, pushed 303 onto the November 2 ballot with the assistance of dark money from Defend Colorado, which has been pouring cash into the 2021 Denver election. Flicker, who was at the hearing, is represented by former deputy secretary of state and Republican state senate candidate Suzanne Taheri, who used to go by the last name Staiert.

Taheri called the city's lawsuit a "last-minute attempt" to thwart an initiative, while "probably knowing that it’s going to pass."

"To intrude into administrative [authority], we would have had to define that term ‘enforcement,'" Taheri stated, rejecting the city's arguments that the initiative would unconstitutionally usurp the executive branch's authority. "It doesn’t say you must send your police officers in to clear an encampment and arrest people or throw away their property. An enforcement action can be a notice, an enforcement action can be one of the other ways Denver can intervene on encampments or unlawful camping."

Denver is currently required by a federal court settlement and federal court order to give a week's notice before sweeping an encampment.

Initiative 303 also sets a limit on the number of safe-camping sites that the city can allow on public property at four, an aspect of the measure that is not part of the City of Denver's legal challenge.

Taheri had filed a motion to dismiss the complaint prior to the hearing in which she argued that the lawsuit is invalid for a variety of reasons, including the city's failure to file it within a certain number of days after the initiative was certified for the ballot.

"People have already voted. Voting is under way. To allow Denver to come in at this point would cause quite a bit of confusion," Taheri stated.

Shockley's first decision will address the motion to dismiss arguments. If he denies that motion, he will address the merits of the constitutionality argument, with both rulings expected to be published simultaneously this weekend.

Just days before the November 2 election.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.