Former Colo. Secretary of State Gessler loses ethics fight at Supreme Court

Former Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (Wikimedia Commons)

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission on Monday mulled whether to file a complaint with the state's attorney disciplinary board against former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, or turning him over to a state collections agency.

The fine of $1,514.88 was assessed against Gessler in 2013 after the commission found he had violated the state's ethics law in using state funds to pay for travel to a partisan event.

Dino Ioannides, the commission's executive director, told the commission Monday that "we have repeatedly tried to get Mr. Gessler's counsel to pay the penalty affirmed by Colorado Supreme Court. Gessler's counsel has stopped communicating with us, and there's no indication that penalty has been paid." 

The commission's legal counsel, Gina Cannan, told the board that the commission could obtain a judgment against Gessler and then refer it to state collections. She also noted that Gessler has been sent a demand letter for payment.

But Commissioner Bill Leone said he disagreed with another round of court costs. "We shouldn't have to sue and get a judgment. Gessler is an attorney who is in contempt of a finding by an administrative agency and finalized through the courts. We would report it to the disciplinary board." 

The commission will decide which action to take next month. Gessler did not respond to a request for comment. 

Gessler, an attorney who specializes in elections law, served a single term as secretary of state from 2011 to 2015. He was slapped with an ethics complaint filed by Colorado Ethics Watch in 2012, tied to travel he made to Sarasota, Florida, in August 2012, for a meeting of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

The day after the two-day seminar ended, on Aug. 26, Gessler went to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. According to court documents, the cost of Gessler’s airfare and lodging to the lawyers’ seminar was $1,278.90. Gessler paid for it out of a discretionary fund within his office. He also directed his staff to give him any money left over in the discretionary account, about $117.99. He did not provide receipts for those funds.

The Ethics Commission ruled on the Ethics Watch complaint in January 2013 that Gessler’s trip was for partisan political purposes and that his acceptance of the remaining discretionary money without providing receipts was for personal use.

A Denver District Court judge put the fine on hold pending resolution of all legal appeals.

In May 2013, according to the Colorado Independent, Gessler paid back the cost of travel to the Secretary of State's Office. The fine levied by the Ethics Commission takes that payment into account.

Gessler's legal case has cost Colorado taxpayers at least $515,000 because the state paid for both sides: for the attorneys for Gessler, and for a member of the state attorney general's staff to represent the Ethics Commission. That includes a recent $12,500 paid to the attorneys representing Gessler in his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

RELATED: Taxpayers pay for both sides of Gessler ethics lawsuit, but how much?

The Ethics Commission on Monday also solidified its plan to move forward with a complaint against former Secretary of State Wayne Williams. The commission plans to hold hearings on the Williams complaint on April 22.

No date has been set for two complaints against former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The former deals with Williams' bar association dues and continuing legal education credits in 2018.

Two complaints against the former governor pertain to travel on private jets and the cost of a conference in Bilderberg, Italy, in 2018.

Representatives for both Williams and Hickenlooper have called the respective claims political stunts.

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