Denver District Court judge slaps state ethics commission with injunction

The Ralph Carr Judicial Building, which houses the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the case that was denied by the court. The case was one of two filed by Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon against the ethics commission; both had gone through the appeals court. The story incorrectly reported the lawsuit in Monday's case was tied to the commission's open records policy. The Monday denial was for the second case, a lawsuit over whether the ethics commission could assert jurisdiction over a city's ethics code. 

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a lawsuit challenging the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission's jurisdiction over a home rule city, letting an Appeals Court ruling in October stand. 

The lawsuit, filed in 2018, is between the commission and Mayor Mike Dunafon of Glendale, and dates back to a 2017 ethics complaint filed against Dunafon.

The complaint, filed by the owner of a Persian rug store in Glendale, alleged Dunafon approved a liquor license renewal for Shotgun Willies, which is owned by his wife.

The commission decided in July 2018 to assert jurisdiction because the Glendale code did not contain a gift ban — although that had nothing to do with the Dunafon complaint — and that Glendale's ethics tribunal is not sufficiently independent to make decisions on ethics complaints. Glendale's ethics tribunal is the city council on which Dunafon served. 

In December 2016, the ethics commission approved a position statement that clarified it could assert jurisdiction over a home-rule city when the city's ethics laws lack the gift ban. 

Dunafon sued the ethics commission over the jurisdiction issue, and in January 2019, a Denver District Court judge ruled in his favor, dismissing both ethics complaints and granted an injunction against the IEC. The commission appealed to the Court of Appeals, with oral arguments heard just before the pandemic began. The appeals court ruled against Dunafon on March 26, which led to the request for the Colorado Supreme Court for review, which they turned down on Monday. 

A second lawsuit in front of the state's high court concerns an attempt by Dunafon to obtain executive session recordings that discussed his case, as well as written records. A Denver District Court judge ruled that the court lacked "subject matter jurisdiction" over the ethics commission because it is not an agency or "institution" subject to the open records law, that the commission is not a "state public body" subject to the open meetings law.

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