Federal judge keeps Colorado gun lawsuits separate, at least for now

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Boulder County, Colorado and three municipalities within its border are being sued over local gun control ordinances approved in recent months, and while the new laws placed on the books are substantially similar to each other, a federal judge is keeping the lawsuits challenging the ordinances separate for the time being.

U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore, who’s overseeing the litigation against the town of Superior, ruled on Friday that the lawsuits should not be combined into one case, as attorneys representing the county and cities had requested. Moore told both plaintiffs and defendants that he had reached that decision after talking with several other district court judges assigned to the cases.

“I’m not going to get into the content of those discussions because those conversations between district judges, in my view, stay between district judges,” he added. “I’m not suggesting to you there has been some kind of joint meeting or plan or there’s some secret sauce you don’t see where Rodriguez and Sweeney and I have this all plotted out.”

Moore anticipated the other judges will also proceed separately with the remaining lawsuits, “although I can’t speak for them.” He acknowledged his decision would complicate the process for the parties, but welcomed coordination between the attorneys in the four cases.

So what does this mean for the legal challenges? As Judge Moore noted, with four judges hearing four cases that are pretty close to one another, the potential for conflicting opinions grows higher. The wheels of justice are also going to grind more slowly with multiple cases working their way through the courts, but the biggest impact is probably going to be on the workload of the attorneys on both sides. The original request to consolidate the cases came from the city of Superior and its attorneys, but attorneys with Rocky Mountain Gun Owners didn’t object to the request. It would be easier for both sides if they only have to manage one case instead of four, but given that the well-financed gun control lobby is already assisting the town of Superior with pro bono legal help in defending its ban on so-called assault weapons and “large capacity” magazines, I have a sneaking suspicion that Moore’s decision will end up having more of an impact on the legal resources of the plaintiffs than those defending the challenged statutes.

Still, I think the plaintiffs have the much stronger argument, and one that will get its days in court in the coming weeks.

Moore gave the parties four weeks to develop a schedule for proceeding in the Superior lawsuit, during which the temporary restraining order will remain in effect. Rodriguez, who is handling the case against the city of Boulder, indicated she would wait until Moore’s decision on the consolidation issue before setting a schedule in that lawsuit.

Sweeney is assigned the lawsuit against Boulder County, and she has already granted a temporary restraining order against prohibitions on the sale or transfer of large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. She has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 8, at which she will consider whether to issue a longer-term preliminary injunction while the case is litigated. Sweeney is also handling the case against Louisville.

In the challenge to Colorado’s statewide ban on large-capacity magazines, Wang has set a hearing for Nov. 17-18 to consider a preliminary injunction. Although the plaintiffs originally requested a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the decade-old law, they withdrew their motion in early September.

We should have a clearer picture of where these cases stand after the hearings in November. There’s also the possibility that these cases could get consolidated once they end up at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, but we still have a ways to go before we reach that point. Hopefully once we get there enforcement of all of these new local gun and magazine bans will have been put on ice, and the temporary restraining orders will have been replaced by permanent injunctions blocking Boulder County and these anti-gun municipalities from treading all over the Second Amendment rights of their citizens.