The Colorado Court of Appeals is expected to issue a pivotal decision this summer in the defamation lawsuit by a former city council candidate. Credit: John Herrick

A defamation lawsuit by a former city council candidate has reached a pivotal stage, with major implications for Boulder’s political organizers as they gear up for the 2023 city election

A three-judge panel with the Colorado Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Wednesday, July 12, in a lawsuit filed by Steve Rosenblum, who ran as a candidate for the Boulder City Council in the 2021 election. Rosenblum, who lost his race, has alleged that five high-profile organizers and the Boulder Progressives — an organization that endorses candidates and ballot measures — engaged in a conspiracy to spread defamatory statements about him, among other allegations. 

The defendants, meanwhile, have argued Rosenblum’s lawsuit is an attempt to “harass and silence persons who challenged his fitness for office,” according to court filings.  

The case is before the state Court of Appeals because defendants have taken advantage of a 2019 Colorado law that aims to discourage frivolous lawsuits filed to silence critics, known as SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. 

The judges will decide whether to dismiss the case as frivolous or allow it to proceed to trial. Bringing it to trial would likely create a contentious backdrop to the 2023 election and entangle some of Boulder’s most active political organizers in court proceedings. 

Appeals court judges weigh in

The oral arguments marked a final plea by lawyers before the judges issue a written opinion, expected as soon as this summer.

The line of questioning by the three judges — Terry Fox, Craig Welling and Eric Kuhn — offered a glimpse into which way the judges might be leaning. 

One of Rosenblum’s allegations is that the Boulder Progressives conspired to damage his reputation by publishing a link on the organization’s website to a blog critical of Rosenblum called Safer Leaks. The blog featured screenshots of internal Slack communications from the group Safer Boulder, which advocates for public safety and the enforcement of the city’s ban on homeless encampments. 

While Rosenblum has defended some of the Slack comments on the Safer Leaks blog, the author of the blog falsely attributed other comments made by a Reddit user to Rosenblum. 

Rosenblum’s complaint argues that by sharing a link to this blog, the organizers orchestrated a “coordinated smear campaign” during the heat of the 2021 city council race. He claims they spread false and defamatory information to damage his reputation. 

But the judges appeared skeptical of this argument, describing it as the “thinnest” of Rosenblum’s legal claims. 

They requested evidence of a conspiracy between the Boulder Progressives and the anonymous author of the blog. And ultimately, Judge Fox described it as “just coincidence that this information was posted by different people at around the same time.” 

The lawyer for Rosenblum, Christopher Murray, with the Denver-based firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, responded by saying the Boulder Progressives knew some information posted about Rosenblum was false. 

“That was passed on with reckless disregard for the truth,” Murray said. 

Judge Welling, however, said some information in the blog was “relevant to a voter” because it showed Rosenblum’s connection to the Safer Boulder group. “We assess our candidates by the company they keep,” he said. 

But Murray responded that the Boulder Progressives did not need to provide a link to the blog. “Why add the link when the only additional real benefit there is to get that defamatory information” in front of voters, he said. 

“It adds validation of sourcing,” Welling responded. “Good for them. They even actually pointed out that this is the specific stuff that isn’t true and we’re not standing behind it,” referring to a disclaimer that’s now on the Boulder Progressives website.  

Budd allegations more complex

The allegations against political organizer Eric Budd, one of the five individuals named in the lawsuit, appeared more complicated. 

In the summer of 2021, Budd created a Twitter account called “@steveforboulder” and linked to the Safer Leaks blog in the account bio. 

Rosenblum’s lawyers alleged the creation of the account amounts to misappropriation of his name and likeness, and that the publication of the link to the blog amounts to defamation. Taken together, his lawyers have argued that Budd deceived voters into thinking the Twitter user was Rosenblum and that he agreed with the content of the blog. 

Budd’s lawyer, John Culver, with the Lakewood-based firm Benezra and Culver, has argued his behavior was protected under the First Amendment because some information in the blog is a matter of public interest, among other arguments. 

Even so, Welling asked Culver about the legal protection that shields Budd from publishing a link that contains knowingly false information. 

Budd’s lawyer has argued that “no reasonable person” would read the Safer Leaks blog and believe the content was endorsed by Rosenblum. The blog “harshly criticized Rosenblum’s character and fitness for office, even going as far as to liken Rosenblum to white supremacists,” they wrote in a legal filing. 

Welling suggested there is sometimes a fine line between what is protected speech and what is not, given the context of a situation. He asked Rosenblum’s lawyer whether his claims would stand if the Twitter profile said “do not vote for Rosenblum” or was clearly represented as “parody.” 

The decision from the appellate court could come just as the 2023 election gets underway. The Boulder Progressives have already started vetting candidates for Boulder City Council and city mayor in advance of making their endorsements. A separate group of organizers have said they are planning to back candidates who, like Rosenblum, support ramping up enforcement of the city’s camping ban and clearing out encampments of homeless people. 

Far beyond its effects in Boulder, the upcoming decision by the Court of Appeals could set a precedent for how judges statewide interpret the relatively new anti-SLAPP law.

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

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