Animals

Inside Lawsuit to Ban Pit Bulls in Aurora Again

A photo from our slideshow "Parade of Pit Bulls 2013."
A photo from our slideshow "Parade of Pit Bulls 2013." Photo by Darian Simon
In January, after Aurora City Council voted to toss out its prohibition on ownership of the most common pit bull breeds, resident Matt Snider put forward an intent-to-sue document, under the theory that the action essentially invalidated a 2014 public vote on the issue. Back then, Aurorans who cast ballots stood behind the city's pit bull ban by around a 2-1 margin.

Now Snider has formally sued the city over the issue, and he's got some powerful legal help on his side. The lead attorney behind the complaint is Scott Gessler, former Colorado secretary of state and recent candidate to head the state's Republican party.

At the time of the intent-to-sue filing, City of Aurora spokesperson Michael Bryant offered this response to a possible suit: "When considering changes to the restricted breed ordinance, the Aurora City Council was advised that the regulations were originally adopted by ordinance. The question put before voters in 2014 did not contain language binding the city but rather was advisory in nature. After recently adopting dangerous-dog legislation, the City Council chose to change the breed restrictions by ordinance."

The city's response is less detailed now. After receiving the complaint, which is dated May 27, Deputy Communications Director Ryan Luby stated: "It's active litigation and it would be improper for us to comment at this time."

Snider notes that the lawsuit's "argument is highly technical on the legal fine points," and he's correct. The document quotes from section 6-6 of the city's charter, which reads: "A proposed ordinance adopted or rejected by electoral vote under either the initiative or referendum cannot be revived, repealed, amended or passed except by electoral vote, provided, however, that the council shall have the power to adopt ordinances making technical amendments thereto which do not change the intent of an initiated or referred ordinance, or amendments required by the Colorado Constitution as it is amended from time to time."

In other words, the suit concludes, "The City Council may not pass an ordinance that has been previously rejected by the electorate." Instead, it must "resubmit to electoral vote any proposed ordinance reviving, repealing or amending an ordinance which has been adopted or rejected by electoral vote upon its own initiative and without any petition therefore."

That didn't happen in regard to the pit bull ban, Snider stresses, adding that Aurora City Council "simply can’t repeal it by a vote of the city council. The vote of the people was not 'advisory in nature,' as the Aurora City Attorney’s office advised the city council when they took this action. It was legally binding as law."

Snider doesn't want anyone to think he's taking action because he dislikes canines.

"I want to emphasize that my lawsuit has nothing to do with dogs, per se, pit bulls or otherwise," he explains. "I love dogs. But it has absolutely everything to do with the city council ignoring the law within the city's own charter and its own procedures to overturn the overwhelming results of a direct vote of the people of Aurora on the pit bull issue. I would be just as upset if the city council did this on any other issue."

He adds: "Votes of the people are sacrosanct to me, regardless of the issue. Maybe I’m too idealistic or too much of a Boy Scout, but if the city council can get away with this, then they will perceive they can do this with impunity on any other issue, perhaps even overturning elections for mayor or city council members."

Click to read Matthew Snider v. City of Aurora.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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