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Ruybalid v. Board of County Commissioners of County of Las Animas County

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

August 24, 2017

Francisco "Frank" Ruybalid IV, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Board of County Commissioners of the County of Las Animas County, Colorado; Anthony Abeyta, member of the Las Animas Board of County Commissioners; Gary D. Hill, member of the Las Animas Board of County Commissioners; Mack Louden, member of the Las Animas Board of County Commissioners; Board of County Commissioners of the County of Huerfano County, Colorado; Gerald Cisneros, member of the Huerfano Board of County Commissioners; Ray Garcia, member of the Huerfano Board of County Commissioners; and Max Vezanni, member of the Huerfano Board of County Commissioners, Defendants-Appellees.

         Las Animas County District Court No. 13CV30013 Honorable Ronald G. Crowder, Judge

          Kamm & McConnell, L.L.C., Steven L. McConnell, Raton, New Mexico, for Plaintiff-Appellant

          Newnam Land LLP, Mary D. Newnam, Wimberley, Texas, for Defendants-Appellees Board of County Commissioners of the County of Las Animas County, Anthony Abeyta, Gary D. Hill, and Mack Louden

          Garrett Sheldon, Walsenburg, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees Board of County Commissioners of the County of Huerfano County, Gerald Cisneros, Ray Garcia, and Max Vezanni

          DUNN, JUDGE

          ¶ 1 Francisco "Frank" Ruybalid IV admitted to serial violations of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct during his tenure as District Attorney for the Third Judicial District, located in Las Animas and Huerfano Counties. Believing that the Counties should be on the hook for the fees and costs he incurred to defend himself in the disciplinary proceeding, he sued them.[1] Seeing no legal claim, the district court dismissed the complaint. Urging us to undo that ruling, Mr. Ruybalid professes to have statutory and equitable rights to attorney fees and costs. Because he doesn't, we affirm.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 In 2000, the citizens of the Third Judicial District elected Mr. Ruybalid District Attorney. During his term, the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel filed disciplinary charges against him.

         ¶ 3 After the Counties refused to assume Mr. Ruybalid's defense, he hired counsel to represent him in the disciplinary action. Mr. Ruybalid eventually entered into a stipulation, admitting to a pattern of discovery violations and several instances of failing to supervise and train his subordinates. He acknowledged that his discovery violations - and those of his subordinates - resulted in sanctions and suppression of key evidence in over a dozen criminal cases. He also agreed that, as a direct result of these violations, the prosecution dismissed the majority of those cases. And he stipulated that he "did not diligently represent the People" and "engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice" in violation of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

         ¶ 4 The Presiding Disciplinary Judge approved the "conditional admission of misconduct and suspended [Mr. Ruybalid] for six months, all stayed upon the successful completion of a twenty-three-month" probation period. People v. Ruybalid, Nos.13PDJ065, 14PDJ064, 2010 WL 11020220, at *1 (Colo. O.P.D.J. Jan. 28, 2010).

         ¶ 5 After resolving the disciplinary action, Mr. Ruybalid filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the Counties, seeking reimbursement for his attorney fees and other costs incurred in the disciplinary proceeding. He specifically asked the court to declare that "the [C]ounties were required to indemnify and defend [him] against the claims asserted in the [d]isciplinary [a]ction" and that he "is allowed to collect . . . all of his reasonable and necessary attorney[] fees, expert witness fees, expenses, practice monitor fees and costs" incurred in that action.

         ¶ 6 The Counties moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, arguing Mr. Ruybalid had no right to attorney fees and costs. Mr. Ruybalid countered that he had a statutory entitlement to attorney fees and costs and, in addition, he had stated an equitable claim for such fees and costs. The district court concluded that Mr. Ruybalid had stated neither a statutory nor an equitable claim for attorney fees and costs, and it dismissed the complaint.

         II. Section 20-1-303

         ¶ 7 Mr. Ruybalid's primary contention is that he is statutorily entitled to attorney fees and costs under section 20-1-303, C.R.S. 2016, and the district court erred in concluding otherwise. The issue for us then is whether that statute requires the ...


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