Exclusives, Featured, HCPF, Health Care, Sherrie Peif

Complete Colorado collects partial legal costs in transparency lawsuit against state

DENVER — After more than a year of back and forth negotiations with a state agency, along with an expensive but ultimately victorious lawsuit, Complete Colorado has finally received a check from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) for a partial reimbursement of legal costs related to HCPF unlawfully withholding documents in response to a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.

That legal battle cost Complete Colorado more than $46,000 in legal expenses just to get HCPF to abide by state law. The records were finally turned over in March, a full year after the initial CORA request was made, after Denver District Court Judge Jill Dorancy determined that HCPF wrongly withheld dozens of emails based on a vague and often abused exception in the law.

The legal victory meant the state was on the hook for Complete Colorado’s legal fees. However, just as they tied up the open records process to avoid public scrutiny, the agency along with its legal counsel, the Attorney General’s office, stalled in reimbursement and tried to avoid payment.

“It’s no wonder so many governments in Colorado are so comfortable with arbitrarily denying records requests. The stakes are prohibitively high for most news operations to bring a lawsuit,” said Complete Colorado editor Mike Krause.

The emails that were initially withheld confirmed suspicions that (HCPF) staffers coordinated with various legislators and progressive activists to change the narrative about hospital revenues — pushing for more regulation and fees on Colorado hospitals despite knowing that their profits were actually declining.

Instead, staffers, legislators and lobbyists began conspiring to convince the public that profits were increasing just a few days after the Colorado Sun published an article showing that most of Colorado’s hospitals lost hundreds of millions in revenue in 2022 because of inflation and wage increases.

Ironically, the emails were ordered released at the same time that majority Democrats in the legislature were passing a law carving out an exemption for themselves from Colorado’s open meetings law — and all during “sunshine week,” a week dedicated each year to the celebrating the need for open and transparent government.

The emails were initially denied after HCPF claimed they met “attorney-client privilege or deliberative process privilege” under CORA exclusions.

Deliberative process is an often abused exception to open records that alleges a document is “so candid or personal that public disclosure is likely to stifle honest and frank discussion,” thus allowing information to be withheld.

Initially, HCPF — through the Attorney General’s office — offered to reimburse just $5,000 of the nearly $50,000 spent. After weeks of negotiations, Complete Colorado settled out of court for $16,000 to stop the bleed of taxpayer money being spent by the state to circumvent transparency.

The Attorney General’s office did not return requests for information on the total cost to state taxpayers to defend HCPF.

Complete Colorado’s attorneys spent countless hours answering multiple motions and objections from Phil Weiser’s office, meaning even at just the average hourly cost for an attorney in Colorado–which according to LawPay.com is $261–the cost to taxpayers to lose in court was significant.

“State agencies have a small army of taxpayer-funded lawyers at their disposal,” Krause added. “We took a financial risk for sure, and it worked out for us, but just imagine how many times the state has thumbed its nose at transparency, knowing the odds of being challenged in court are slim to none.”


Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.

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