State Billed More Than $122,000 for Failed Ethics Defense
Denver - Today, Colorado Ethics Watch released the results of an open records request to the Secretary of State's office, revealing that the outside lawyers who represented Scott Gessler in his defense before the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) charged the state $122,218.10 through June 30, 2013. Scott Gessler was unsuccessful in his attempt to avoid being held accountable by the IEC for misusing public funds for a personal trip to the Republican National Convention and a Republican lawyers' convention in 2012.
The legal bills for the defense of Scott Gessler nearly double the legal budget of the Ethics Commission itself ($69,525), and the appeal by Gessler’s attorneys will surely continue to cost taxpayers.
On June 19, the bi-partisan IEC entered its written findings and conclusions regarding Ethics Watch's complaint against Gessler for misusing public funds, ruling that Gessler had "breached the public trust for private gain in using public funds for personal and political purposes." The IEC levied a fine of $1514.88 in addition to the $1278.90 Gessler paid back on the eve of the hearing, the maximum amount allowed by law. During the months before the hearing, Gessler's legal team filed numerous motions with the IEC - none of which were permitted by the IEC's rules but all of which were nevertheless considered by the Commission - and a failed lawsuit to attempt to block the IEC from even investigating the issues raised in Ethics Watch's complaint. Through a public records request, Ethics Watch has now learned the amount spent on the defense. In addition, the same lawyers are now handling Gessler's appeal, costing the state even more money.
"Our ethics system is extremely unbalanced when a state official who misused public funds is allowed to spend more than $122,000 on lawyers to defend the indefensible, while those who file the complaint are expected to prosecute the case without any taxpayer support whatsoever," said Luis Toro, Director of Ethics Watch. "In this case, Scott Gessler was caught red-handed and even the best trial lawyer in the state could not get him off the hook. But the system we have now is not what the voters expected when they created the Ethics Commission. The legislature must step in and level the playing field so that Colorado citizens can exercise their right to ask the IEC whether a violation has occurred, and get an investigation without having to face the best defense the state treasury can buy. When the legislature convenes in January, they should hold hearings to find out how these lawyers were allowed to run up enormous bills with no oversight, and to change the law so that the ethics investigation process is no longer overwhelmingly biased in favor of the public official suspected of misconduct."