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Commentary and Analysis Regarding Colorado Law

Use it or Lose it

Godbehere Kara small“Use it or lose it” is often colloquially used to describe the prior appropriation doctrine for water rights in Colorado.  Nowhere is that phrase more accurate than when it comes to the decennial abandonment list.  CRS § 37-92-401(1)(a) requires the Division Engineer to maintain a tabulation of water rights and priorities in their Water Division, but also to “prepare decennially, no later than July 1, 1990, and each tenth anniversary thereafter, a separate abandonment list comprising all absolute water rights that he or she has determined to have been abandoned in whole or in part and that previously have not been adjudged to have been abandoned.”  The next issuance of this decennial abandonment list will happen in 2020, and there are some important considerations of which water users should be aware before that list is issued.

Water rights can be abandoned in whole or in part.  The Division Engineers office may physically inspect diversion structures and/or diversion records, if kept, to determine if water rights have actively been used over the past ten years.  They may be placed on the abandonment list if they haven’t been used at all, but also if they have only been used in amounts less than the decreed amount. In addition to non-use, the water right owner must intend to abandon the right.  See CRS § 37-92-103(2), also Beaver Park Water, Inc. v. City of Victor, 649 P.2d 300 (Colo. 1982). This is a very important element to note in the abandonment process, as the burden is on the water right owner to show they did not have an intent to abandon, if they wish to have their water rights removed from the list. Pursuant to CRS § 37-92-103(5)(a), any water right owner who wishes to protest inclusion of their water rights on the abandonment list must file a protest no later than “June 30, 1992, or the respective tenth anniversary thereafter” (so for the upcoming 2020 abandonment list, no later than June 30, 2022).  The forms for protesting inclusion of water rights on the abandonment list can be found here: https://www.courts.state.co.us/Forms/Forms_List.cfm?Form_Type_ID=10

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Did 2017 Tax Code Changes Eliminate 1031 Exchanges of Ditch Stock?

1031 exhangeSince the passage of the 2007 Farm Bill, buyers and sellers of certain water rights have enjoyed the ability to use tax deferred exchanges under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code.  Recent changes to the tax code, however, deleted any reference to mutual ditch or irrigation company stock from the definintion of qualifying “like kind property.”  None the less, the IRS will still allow exchanges involving ditch stock provided that your state’s laws consider such stock as real property.

Following the passage of the 2007 Farm Bill, Internal Revenue Code §1031(i) specifically provided that mutual ditch or irrigation company stock could be used for a tax deferred like kind exchange for real property used in a trade or business or held for investment purposes. As a result, the gain from the sale of eligible mutual ditch company stock could be deferred if the other requirements of §1031 were met.  Eligible stock was defined as any stock in a mutual ditch, reservoir, or irrigation company, as described in Code § 501(c)(12)(A). That section required at least 85% of the revenue into the company be from member assessments.

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Is it your ethics, or your office management?

Tim O Neil 01For most attorneys, their law school training readied them to counsel clients, draft legal documents, and litigate disputes; it may not have prepared them as well for the practical reality of running a business. At some point in our careers, however, most of us have to come to grips with the nuts and bolts of managing a law practice, especially those of us who are sole practitioners or members of small firms. While running your own business may not have been what drove you to the profession, being thoughtful and skillful about how you manage your law office is critical not only to your financial success, but the ethics of your practice.

The Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern the ethical and professional conduct of lawyers in the state, may not specify exactly how one must run their law office (although, with respect to certain matters, like what bank accounts to have for your business, they do), many times lawyers find themselves answering to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel (OARC) regarding issues that arise from what are primarily office management problems. A lawyer who is remiss in viewing their office management practices through the lens of professional responsibility under the Rules might be unwittingly setting an ethical trap for herself in the future. The time demands of attending to client needs must be balanced with time demands of managing your practice.

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The Harvey Weinstein Syndrome - Every Company's Needed Response

20171226 BlogThe allegations of abuse have been staggering. The numbers of abused victims are astounding. Are these problems limited to the film and television industries?

Ask any working woman, and the answer to that question is no. Although this is the 21st Century, sexual harassment is still prevalent in many of our work places.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and Dirt) . . . all eligible for a tax deferred 1031 exchange (maybe)

Planes Trains and AutomobilesThis photo, which I think is a marketing promo of a happy tax payer and his 1031 Exchange Accommodator, lists three types of property that might lose 1031 exchange protection under the tax bill making its way through the Senate and House chambers this week.  As noted in Retail Real Estate Law, the recent Senate-House compromise removed personal property from like-kind treatment under Section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code.  So, today, you could complete a 1031 exchange with your plane, your train or even your automobile (provided that you adhere to the strict requirements established in Section 1031 and its associated regulations) but that may not be the case following approval of the revisions to the Tax Code in the coming weeks. 

For most of us, real estate is the like-kind property with which we deal on a regular basis.  That appears to be unaffected by the current tax bill.  Whether or not we lose the ability to exchange personal property, it seems that a refresher on 1031 exchanges is in order. 

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May He Rest in Peace; now give me his football tickets!

Cameron GrantFrank Lumpkin Jr. loved Georgia football.  As the story goes, one Saturday (over 50 years ago) Mr. Lumpkin walked through downtown Columbus, Georgia with his infant son.  He came upon an Auburn fan and the two ultimately came to blows, with Lumpkin clutching his son’s bassinet in his left hand while he swung at the Auburn fan with his right.

Mr. Lumpkin looked out for his two loves that day – his son and his Georgia Bulldogs.  Unfortunately, he later forgot to take care of his kids when he failed to mention his Georgia football season tickets in his will.  Now, his son, Frank Lumpkin, III, and his daughter, Julia Lumpkin, are embroiled in litigation over their parents’ estate, with ownership of the Georgia tickets as a major sticking point. 

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Water Butts

Eve CanfieldAccording to http://www.treehugger.com, the UK calls rain barrels “water butts”. I was suspicious, but when I “Googled” water butts, a whole list of sites for rain barrels came up, so yes, rain barrels are really called water butts in the UK. The reason for this article is that until recently, rain barrels were illegal in Colorado. In Wisconsin where I grew up, my grandmother had rain barrels and used the water for flower boxes and also to wash her hair. She said it made her hair soft and slowed down the process of going gray. As I remember her now, she could have been right.

The Colorado Division of Water Resources website tells us that the State of Colorado claims the right to all rain that falls within the state. That is why rain barrels were illegal in Colorado until August 10, 2016. Practically speaking, there was concern that the collection of rain water would have an adverse effect on owners of senior water rights by taking too much water out of the natural water cycle. In 2009, there was Senate Bill 09-080, which allowed the use of rain barrels in limited circumstances, but it wasn’t until this year that the use of rain barrels or “rooftop precipitation collection” systems were made legal for most of homeowners in Colorado.

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Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Chad KupperAs a litigator, it’s not often that I see a judge begin a District Court order by quoting Shakespeare; but reading the introduction in the Court's Order in Sinclar v. Larson gave me the sneaking suspicion that this judge was about to make an example out of someone. This is not my case (thankfully), nevertheless, soon after the judge issued the order it found its way to my office, and I’m sure countless other attorneys’ offices - not to express a concept of law, but to emphasize an often-overlooked principle of legal writing: Brevity.

In the case, Sinclair’s attorney, who filed multiple briefs exceeding the 10-page limit without asking permission first, provoked Judge Taylor to take extreme action in striking 5 of Sinclair’s pending briefs. On the eve of trial, I can only imagine the impact of this order, which undoubtedly sent shivers down the spine of Sinclair’s lawyer. The order surely resulted in wasted attorney’s fees and court costs, and ultimately an unhappy client; and all because Sinclair’s briefs were not brief.

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Election Spending and Local Government

Adele ReesterMany local governments have determined within the past few weeks to send a ballot issue or question to their voters in the November 2016 election.  This act of setting the ballot language for the issue or question triggers the application of the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act (“FCPA”) (§ 1-45-117, C.R.S.)  For the local governments, this means that they are expressly prohibited from expending public funds to support/oppose any candidate for public office and any ballot issue before the voters.  This include a prohibition on contributions of public funds and contributions of “in kind” public services.

However, the FCPA does permit the expenditure of public funds/resources and the use of public employees' time/resources only for the printing of a factual balanced and fair summary which includes arguments both for and against a proposal on any issue of official concern before an electorate.  The summary cannot urge a vote in a particular manner (“VOTE YES”).  It should be noted that unless the matter is referred to your voters by your board, it is not of “official concern” and therefore funds could not be used to prepare arguments for or against a statewide ballot issues.  Of further note is that this is in addition to the TABOR comments which are received from the public in support or opposition to a tax measure.

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Cameron Grant Elected Managing Shareholder

Lyons Gaddis is pleased to announce that Cameron A. Grant has been elected as the firms’ new Managing Shareholder, effective July 1, 2016.  Mr. Grant succeeds Anton V. Dworak, who served as Managing Shareholder for 8 years, and joins his colleague, Catherine A. Tallerico, on the firm’s Management Committee.  During Mr. Dworak’s tenure he oversaw the expansion of the firm’s services, the opening of a Louisville office and the construction of an addition to the firm’s Longmont offices.

Mr. Grant returned to the firm three years ago.  Prior to rejoining Lyons Gaddis, Mr. Grant served as Managing Partner of Grant, Grant & Goiran and of Donelson, Ciancio and Grant, where he built his regional practice focusing on real estate development, transactions and business matters.  His real estate work involves the representation of real estate developers, investors, contractors and owners in connection with the acquisition, development and management of real estate projects, including residential subdivisions, condominiums, master-planned communities and office buildings. Cameron’s business work involves transactions of all sizes, including joint ventures, business structure and strategy, and general corporate counseling.

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Submitted by Catherine Tallerico.

On January 1, 2015, a new Colorado Wage Protection Act (“Act”) went into effect, expanding wage claims under the Colorado Wage Act.  The Act gives the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, Division of Labor (DOL) new enforcement authority to adjudicate complaints for unpaid wages, including earned vacation time.  The DOL’s authority to adjudicate vacation pay claims arises from the Wage Act’s definition of “wages” to include “vacation pay earned in accordance with the terms of an agreement.” Additionally, “if an employer provides paid vacation for an employee, the employer shall pay upon separation from employment all vacation pay earned and determinable in accordance with the terms of any agreement between the employer and the employee.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-4-101.

Last summer, the DOL made statements indicating an intent to find “use it or lose it” vacation policies in violation of the Act.  Such statement would have constituted a change in the DOL’s prior position in which it had permitted such policies so long as the risk of forfeiture was clearly set forth in an agreement.

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Blizzard? What Blizzard?

Our enterprising (and athletic) attorneys find a variety of ways to keep working despite the major snowstorm to hit the Colorado front range this week.  Some work from home, others test their snow tires, but a brave and healthy few turn the storm into the first official Lyons Gaddis Ski to Work Day.

Photo and snowbound fun courtesy of Madoline Wallace-Gross and Matthew Machado.

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What to Do After You Win POWERBALL!

So, Now You Are a Winner?

Cameron Grant Submitted by Cameron Grant.

Do not deny it.  You have already thought through (at least briefly) what you would do if you won the estimated $1,500,000,000 PowerBall jackpot.  Yes, that is $1.5 BILLION.  Would you start by buying yourself some new toys?  That Ferrari?  A new house?  Heck, how about an island?  My eldest son is currently working on college scholarship applications and I let him know that if I win PowerBall he can tear up those essays because I will simply buy him Georgetown University.  But, seriously, what should you do if you win?  In his post on the subject, Texas Tech law professor Gerry W. Beyer offers some practical suggestions for What To Do After Winning the Lottery.  Professor Beyer recommends the following:

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Water Woes and Wars Shape Development in Northern Colorado

If you can’t bring LA to the water, you bring the water to LA…
– Roman Polanski’s Chinatown dramatizes the so-called “California Water Wars”.

I have yet to see Jack Nicholson roaming the plains of Northern Colorado but the factors that drove and challenged growth in Southern California in the late 1930s now take shape in Northern Colorado. 

It takes more than land and a strong market to create a successful development, at least around here.  In Northern Colorado, water is the key ingredient and that resource is in short supply.  The City of Longmont holds a lot of cards.  The Towns of Firestone, Frederick and Mead have the land and the demand.  Longmont’s City Council recently discussed Councilman Brian Bagley’s three point plan to protect Longmont’s eastern border from encroaching municipal neighbors.  A key prong in that plan is to protect Longmont’s store of water rights from being leased or sold to those towns.

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Passwords, Death and Dylan

Submitted by John Wade Gaddis.

Bob Dylan was right, “The times they are a-changing.”  When I first started handling estates forty years ago, the big unknown was the contents of the decedent’s safe deposit box. Typically, we had to contact the State Inheritance Tax Office and make an appointment to have one of the State’s employees meet us at the bank to inventory the box. It was usually a moment that was fraught with drama and surprises. There were unexpected documents, rogue personal property and secrets in virtually every box. That process has been relegated to history as there is no current obligation to contact the State to open a safe deposit box.

But now, there is a vast amount of private information (and surprises) kept online and/or on a personal computer. Everyone wants to safeguard his/her passwords (and some people have more than a hundred passwords). Passwords are typically memorized and in some events written down and kept in a “safe” place.

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Courts Weigh in on Fracking in the West

Cameron Grant
Submitted by Cameron Grant.

Just when you thought you had heard enough about fracking, western courts are getting into the action.  First, the Colorado Supreme Court is set to take up the issue of local v. state control in the case between the City of Longmont and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.  Next, the Wall Street Journal reports that a federal judge in Wyoming blocked  Interior Department rules setting stricter standards for hydraulic fracturing on public lands, the second set of major regulations from the Obama administration to be faulted in court in as many months.  It seems that we will have some judicial guidance on the fracking issue in the near future.  Stay tuned . . .

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Pregnancy and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Submitted by Catherine Tallerico.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires that a covered employer treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions the same as other applicants or employees who are similarly situated in their ability or inability to work.  The PDA covers all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions and fringe benefits.  Pregnant workers are protected from discrimination based on current pregnancy, past pregnancy and potential pregnancy.

The United States Supreme Court decided the Young v. UPS case in March 2015.  UPS had a light duty policy which only applied to those injured on the job or those suffering from a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  A pregnant woman who had lifting restrictions due to her pregnancy was therefore not entitled to light duty work.  The Court held that UPS’s practice could be discriminatory in that it failed to provide light duty to the pregnant employee even though other workers who were similar in their ability or inability to work were permitted light duty work.  The Court sent the case back to a lower court for trial.

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Watch Out for Falling Tree Branches

Submitted by Blair Dickhoner.

We are all familiar with the age-old philosophical question – “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

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Lyons Gaddis Sponsors Scholorship

Dick Lyons recently had the honor of presenting a $500 college scholarship to Ms. Alessandra Chavez.  Ms. Chavez was given the award by the Hispanic Education Foundation.  Alessandra graduated from Longmont High School and will attend the University of Northern Colorado to major in biology or chemistry.  The Firm is proud to support the Hispanic Education Foundation in its efforts to create education opportunities, enrich lives, and enhance the St. Vrain Valley community.

The scholarship awards banquet was discussed in more detail in a recent article in the Longmont Times Call.  “We’re a small organization, but we’re a lot of committed individuals and members of the community who care about the future of Longmont and the St. Vrain Valley,” said Longmont resident and Boulder firefighter Matt Zavala, who serves on the board.

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Smoke on the Water: Representing Grow Operations

Lyons Gaddis water lawyers have been asked by several of the firm’s clients to advise them on providing water to marijuana-related businesses cultivating marijuana in “grow operations.”  These matters are complicated by the fact that the cultivation and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Under the aiding and abetting doctrine of criminal law, persons or entities providing water to these businesses could be subject to a federal prosecution.

Lyons Gaddis attorneys Jeff Kahn and Matt Machado recently spoke to state and local bar associations regarding the legal and ethical implications of providing legal representation to water providers in negotiating sales or leases of water for grow operations.  Mr. Kahn’s presentation to the Colorado Bar Association, Water Law Section (available here) covered topics including the lack of clear direction provided by the Cole Memorandum and the Bureau of Reclamation policy regarding the use of reclaimed water for activities prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act.  Matt Machado participated in a panel at the Boulder County Bar Association Bench Bar Retreat, and discussed ethical requirements for lawyers representing marijuana-related businesses.  This is a new area of the law that continues to evolve rapidly.  If you have questions in this area of water law, please contact , Jeff Kahn or Matt Machado.

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