Fort Collins voters could see a couple of interesting questions on the November ballot, including whether the Municipal Court should keep its jurisdiction over civil cases.
One might wonder why city voters would have to make that call or, for that matter, care whether the court has jurisdiction in such cases.
It’s because the City Charter, which is akin to a constitution, gives the Municipal Court authority to hear civil lawsuits. City officials have recommended changing the court’s authority in the charter, a move that requires voter approval.
This stems from a single civil lawsuit filed with the court in March – an appeal of the City Council’s approval of development plans for an expansion of the Landmark Apartments near the intersection of Shields Street and Prospect Road.
Appeals of council decisions historically have gone to Larimer County District Court. This case was a first for Municipal Court. It didn’t even have rules of procedure for civil cases until the City Council adopted the state’s model in April.
This case has turned into a major hassle for the court, which city officials say is not staffed to handle civil lawsuits in addition to its regular caseload.
The court typically deals with misdemeanor criminal cases, traffic infractions and code enforcement matters.
The process for civil cases is involved and time-consuming, according to a city memo, and would require additional staff members. And that would cost more city tax dollars.
There’s also a problem with the appearance of a conflict of interest: The municipal judge works directly for City Council. Having a city-appointed judge rule on a council decision is problematic.
The civil suit was brought by Colleen and Rick Hoffman and Ann Hunt, who live on Wallenberg Drive east of the proposed Landmark project.
They fought the proposal through the city’s development review process and appealed the Planning and Zoning Board’s approval of plans for it to City Council. They claimed the planning board failed to follow the land use code in making its decision.
In February, council voted unanimously to uphold the board’s decision after making a few tweaks to the plan.
As is their right, the Hoffmans and Hunt appealed the council’s decision. But rather than go to District Court, they filed a complaint in Municipal Court. They are representing…