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Colorado Springs to defend against defamation lawsuit from Drake Power Plant whistleblower

January 8, 2018 Updated: January 9, 2018 at 6:22 am
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photo - Martin Drake Power Plant shot from Gold Hill Mesa on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. 
Carol Lawrence, The Gazette
Martin Drake Power Plant shot from Gold Hill Mesa on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Carol Lawrence, The Gazette 

A local attorney will defend current and past Colorado Springs City Council members alongside others in a defamation lawsuit filed in November by a Monument clean-air advocate.

Council members unanimously gave representatives from the City Attorney's Office the nod to move forward with the defense Monday afternoon.

Councilman Tom Strand, who is also the president of the Colorado Springs Utilities board of directors, offered his support "very vociferously." The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver by Leslie Weise, who declined to comment for this article. It alleges that city officials and elected leaders smeared her reputation because she voiced concerns about pollution from the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown.

In all, a dozen defendants are named in the lawsuit, including the city of Colorado Springs. The others named are current council members Merv Bennett, Jill Gaebler, Don Knight, Bill Murray, Andy Pico and Strand alongside former members Larry Bagley, Keith King and Helen Collins. City Attorney Wynetta Massey and Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad are also listed as defendants.

Eric Hall, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP, a local firm, will represent each of the defendants, said Jamie Fabos, city spokeswoman.

Citing the ongoing litigation, council spokesman Ted Skroback said the current council members listed in the lawsuit declined to comment. Trinidad also declined to comment. Bagley, King, Collins and Hall did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

In her lawsuit, Weise alleges a campaign seeking to "discredit her and ruin her reputation in her community for exposing the fact that the Martin Drake Power Plant was spewing noxious pollution in violation of Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the backyard of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs residents."

The case stems from a 2013 sulfur dioxide report bo AECOM Technical Services Inc., which Weise said proved Utilities was aware that Drake's sulfur dioxide emissions exceeded federal standards. The report is not available to the public.

Some of the defendants called Weise a liar and suggested she broke the law by publicly detailing her account of the report, the complaint says.

The council also agreed to pursue professional sanctions against Weise "concerning her professional licensure" in multiple states, the complaint says.

Previously, Weise told The Gazette she sued to clear her name and protect other whistleblowers from similar retaliation.

The state Air Quality Control Commission deemed Drake's emissions "unclassifiable" in September, rather than in compliance with federal standards.

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