Court Opinions- July 02, 2018

In re Rains

The Colorado Supreme Court considered the liability of two pilots who were involved in a plane crash at Erie Municipal Airport.

The airport does not have a control tower to direct air traffic coming in and going out of the landing strips. Instead, pilots must communicate with each other about their departures and arrivals. Defendants Oliver Frascona and Joseph Lechtanski were in a near-collision that resulted in the crash of Frascona’s plane and killed all on board. 

Lechtanski’s plane was attempting a takeoff from one end of a runway while Frascona was approaching to land from the other end. In an attempt to avoid a collision, Frascona tried to fly above Lechtanski. In doing so his plane stalled out and crashed.

The verdict form given to the jury asked questions on negligence, fault and to assess damages. The jury ruled in favor of the defendants in saying that they were not negligent. 

In response to the verdict, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 59(d), arguing that the jury’s verdict was an irregularity that resulted in an unfair trial and was also a miscarriage of justice. The trial court also stated that the jury misunderstood its role.

The state Supreme Court upon review of the case ruled that the trial court’s reasons for a new trial did not meet the requirements of rule 59(d). The court went further to also say that a trial court couldn’t grant a new trial for any reason other than 59(d).

Castillo v. People

At the end of a night celebrating his wife’s birthday with friends, Andres Castillo was shot at in his car by unknown assailants. In response, Castillo grabbed a shotgun out of his trunk and shot back. Police officers nearby rushed to the scene and opened fire at Castillo, who thought the police were associated with the initial shooters and returned fire at the police.

Castillo’s actions led to him being charged for multiple counts of attempted first-degree murder as well as first- and second-degree assault. He claimed self-defense.

The trial court instructed the jury on self-defense and the exceptions of “initial aggressor” and “provocation.” Castillo was found guilty of several offenses.

The Court of Appeals stated that the trial court was correct to give the initial aggressor instruction, yet erred in giving the provocation instruction. The Court of Appeals found that error to be harmless.

The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court was wrong to give the initial aggressor instruction, as no evidence supported the instruction. That error was found to be harmful. The court did not say whether the provocation instruction was correct, as the new trial was already justified. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed.

Coors Brewing Co. v. City of Golden

For 30 years, Coors Brewing Company leased to other companies excess water it would normally return to Clear Creek to other water users downstream. This practice was given consent by the state and division engineers. 

In 2014 the state engineer did not approve a lease between Coors and Martin Marietta Materials Inc., serving as a termination of the leasing practice. The companies challenged the state engineer in water court. The state engineer’s reasons for termination were that Coors’ augmentation plans to their water rights — where reservoir water is released to replace water used — did not say that Coors could reuse water that would normally return to Clear Creek. 

The court affirms the water court’s ruling that for Coors to reuse water they must be granted a new water right. The court ruled that diverted water from an augmentation plan does not change the character of the water, an argument Coors used to support their unapproved use of water under their current water rights. 

In the Matter of James C. Wollrab

In 2010, Laszlo Bagi formed a company that would have the right to the option to purchase the property his HVAC company’s offices were in for $50,000. James Wollrab, an attorney and friend, recommended he hire corporate attorney Clark Edwards for the matter. Wollrab eventually was the one who funded the access to the option. In return, Bagi made it so Wollrab owned 50 percent of the company that was given the option. The real estate deal was not completed, however.

Soon after, Bagi was able to buy the property under another company with no reliance on Wollrab. He offered Wollrab office space free of rent in return for other services Wollrab had provided. Wollrab asked for a written lease agreement, which he then edited down so that he had many rights and benefits as a tenant and removed landlord rights.

Bagi and Wollrab had a falling out; three actions were filed against each other, which were consolidated and resolved out of court. The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel filed a complaint against Wollrab for violating the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

The court affirmed the hearing board’s rulings that Wollrab violated every provision of Rule 1.8(a) with the drafting of the lease, and rule 1.8(a)(3) when he entered the real estate option transaction without Bagi’s written informed consent on Wollrab’s role in the deal. 

The court reversed the board’s rulings that he violated rule 1.8(a)(2) and (3) with the lease agreement and that he violated rule 4.2 by drafting the $50,000 deal without Edwards present.

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