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On the last day of legislation, a mask clad Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, looks over some paperwork while waiting to speak. Because of a long recess attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the latest day in the year for a regular session. The session was supposed to end on Saturday, but carried over to late in the day on Monday, June 15, 2020. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

State Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, spoke to Colorado Politics Friday evening about the ethics complaint filed against him by Chris Forsyth of the Judicial Integrity Project.

Gardner said the complaint is groundless, and that he was disappointed that the Senate leadership did not dismiss it out of hand or take the time to thoroughly ask what actually happened.

"What I'm really accused of is picking up the phone on behalf of another citizen," the same that every lawmaker does on behalf of constituents every day, Gardner said.

The complaint stems from a comment Gardner made in a January 25, 2019, joint Judiciary committee hearing on the State Commission on Judicial Performance, in which he commented that

  • "I had, about five or six years ago, a colleague with whom I shared an office come to me and say I am appearing in front of the senior judge and the senior judge said this. And she showed me the transcript and she said, ‘And I don’t know what to do but I understand you’re in the legislature and so forth.’ Well, I was able to make a phone call to the state court administrator, but had my colleague not shared office space with a member of the House Judiciary Committee, she would have been faced with a recusal motion."
Republican Sen. Bob Gardner facing ethics complaint

There's far more to the story than that, according to Gardner.

Gardner is accused of violating Senate rule 41, which deals with conflicts of interest and undue influence over a state official, but that rule also specifies that there must be some kind of gain, usually financial or private, to the lawmaker in doing so. None of that happened, according to Gardner. But he's also clear that he did not ask the State Court Administrator at the time (not the one in the office now) to do anything nor influence the administrator's actions in any way.

The case stems from a conversation Gardner some eight or nine years ago with an attorney who worked in the same building where Gardner has his law practice. The attorney was involved in a divorce case, and asked Gardner his opinion about something the judge in the case had said.

He recalled that the attorney said the client was working on marital debts, one of which was a large cell phone bill. The judge, according to the attorney, had said something to the effect that women shouldn't have cell phones.

That was concerning to the attorney, who worried whether her client would get a fair hearing. She asked Gardner, not in his capacity as a legislator, whether to file a motion to recuse, but the problem was that the judge would be the one making that decision.

Gardner said he looked at the transcript. The judge was part of the senior judge program, which relies on retired judges to work on a contract basis. Gardner saw the comments as a clear violation of professional standards for attorneys and judges, and asked if he could contact the state court administrator.

"That kind of conduct shouldn't go unchallenged," Gardner told Colorado Politics.

Gardner called the administrator, who asked for the transcript, and that was the end of the conversation. Gardner said he never asked the administrator to do anything. The administrator later called him back and told Gardner to tell his colleague not to be concerned any further, which appeared to take Gardner by surprise.

"It was not a situation where I requested a change or a specific action," Gardner said Friday night. "It was a situation where I brought to the SCA a matter of concern about a judge in a courtroom."

Gardner said he gets emails from constituents from time to time and forwards it to the office to see if things are being handled appropriately.

This has now morphed into an accusation from Forsyth, Gardner said, who he said has an ax to grind with the judicial department and the judiciary committee on bills the committee approves.

Forsyth testified on House Bill 1136, which is also part of the issue raised in the complaint. That bill expanded the senior judge program, which Gardner said was done to help the judicial department with the backlog of trials stemming from the pandemic, when the courts were largely shut down. Forsyth was angry that the committee approved the bill, according to Gardner.

"I didn't exercise undue influence or gain anything from it," Gardner said, and did nothing other than to express some concerns about the operations of the judicial department. "I didn't ask for any particular outcome." 

He believed the remark made from the bench was biased and gender discriminatory, he said. "If you're going to have things like this in the judicial department" someone needs to know about it, he explained.

"I'm confident this will be resolved in my favor. Every legislator, if they're doing their job, picks up the phone many times in a week or month and talks to department officials about complaints brought by constituents. I'm being accused of doing what my constituents expect of me."

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