Aspen City Attorney John Worcester on Wednesday declined to release contents of his opinion surrounding the role and independence of the city’s Election Commission, saying that to do so would violate attorney-client privilege. Worcester rendered the opinion to members of the City Council and Election Commission on Tuesday. It deals with questions posed in a public meeting last week by election commissioner Ward Hauenstein, such as whether the government entity has the right to seek independent counsel and also if the commission is an official custodian of election records, such as ballots cast in past elections.
“The whole thing is confidential,” Worcester said. “I can’t waive that confidence. The City Council or Election Commission could if they wanted to. It’s not my privilege to waive, it’s theirs.” He said that an individual council member or commissioner cannot release the answers. The council or commission would have to meet as a whole, with a majority vote necessary to make the information public.
Worcester said 99 percent of the advice he gave “has already been talked about in public; there’s nothing new.” But he said his memo is confidential because it provides legal advice to the council and commission. He said at some later date, he might be willing to provide some answers to concerns raised by Hauenstein, but that the answers to The Aspen Times might not be the same as the ones he gave council members and commissioners this week.
Asked if the commission can hire an outside attorney to assist with its legal questions, Worcester said that it can ask the council for the money to hire independent counsel. That’s just what Hauenstein did at Monday’s council meeting. Most councilmen said they would wait for Worcester’s opinion before making a decision.