Denver shells out $850,000 to settle costly cookbook case

Bill Cardona.

Back in 2002, the Junior League of Denver's Colorado Colore cookbook sold for about twenty bucks. But a firefighter's effort to replace a copy lost at a local Safeway five years ago set off a chain of events that is going to end up costing the city close to a million dollars — actually more, if you count all the staff time and trouble involved.

On Monday, November 10, the Denver City Council will decide whether to approve its share of an $850,000 settlement offered to Bill Cadorna, a veteran firefighter who was dismissed after being falsely accused of shoplifting the cookbook. If that sounds like a lot for a few meatloaf and pasta recipes, then you haven't heard what Paul Harvey calls the rest of the story.

The cookbook fiasco is only part of a twisted saga of perjury, cover-ups and discrimination claims that led to Cadorna winning a $1.2 million judgment from a federal jury two years ago. It was one of the largest awards ever entered against the city -- but it was tossed by Judge Robert E. Blackburn, who declared that Cadorna's attorney must have improperly inflamed the jury with his sarcastic, confrontational style of litigation. The scorched-earth legal battle in and over that case can be found in our 2007 feature "Blackburned."

While council members will no doubt groan over the size of Cadorna's back-pay and liability package, it's worth noting that none of the Denver Fire Department brass involved in investigating his alleged transgression -- one of them even coaxed a Safeway store manager into signing a criminal complaint, based on false information -- have ever been disciplined for their actions. But that's not the case for Mark Brennan, Cadorna's pugnacious lawyer. He's now defending his reputation before the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation as a result of an ethics complaint about his behavior at the trial, which Blackburn blasted as "boorish and unprofessional antics."

Brennan has claimed that he's the target of a vendetta by the judge and city attorneys. The OAR investigator is on record as having told Brennan that, in his opinion, the complaint didn't amount to much but that higher-ups in the office insisted that it be pursued. Talk about throwing good money after bad. No matter what happens at the council meeting, this stew keeps simmering, and no one seems to know how to turn off the heat. -- Alan Prendergast

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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