RTD Board Signals Approval For Millions More To Cover Rising Legal Costs

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
RTD’s downtown headquarters at 1660 Blake Street in Denver.
Photo: RTD Downtown HQ Entrance Sign - NMinor
RTD's downtown headquarters at 1660 Blake Street in Denver.

The legal bills for the Regional Transportation District are piling up.

In a preliminary vote Tuesday night, the agency’s board of directors approved up to another $4 million for outside counsel to help with two legal battles with its commuter rail contractors. That’s on top of $8.5 million the district has already spent.

“It’s an awful lot of money. And it keeps accruing,” board director Judy Lubow said before the vote. “It makes me very uncomfortable.”

But other board members argued it’s just the cost of doing business.

“Some [disputes] are worth litigating, some are not worth litigating,” said board member Jeff Walker. “This one seems to be worth going the extra mile where we need counsel to provide us guidance.”

Private company Denver Transit Partners, which built and operates the A, B and G commuter train lines, and RTD are currently suing each other in Denver District Court over delays that have cost tens of millions of dollars. That’s set to go to trial next spring.

RTD’s chief counsel Rolf Asphaug said there’s potential that the contractor that built the N Line, Regional Rail Partners, could file more claims against the agency. The two parties already settled a legal dispute in 2018 with RTD paying about $30 million.

All of those proceedings add up to too much work for RTD’s own legal team to handle, Asphaug told the board. He also said he’ll keep a close eye on how the money is spent.

“We are not seeking any particular contract. This does not imply we will spend all of this money,” he said.

Other board members, like director Shontel Lewis, asked if there were any alternatives.

“There’s always a hope that there will be a settlement,” replied Marisela Sandova, RTD’s assistant general counsel, referring to the Denver Transit Partners litigation that’s set to go to trial.

Asphaug said he would give board members more details in executive sessions, referencing the sensitive nature of the legal cases. Denver Transit Partners’ executive project director, John Thompson, was in the audience at Tuesday night’s meeting. He regularly attends board meetings.

The board is set to take a final vote next week.