The Independent Ethics Commission issued an interim order Wednesday that the June 4 virtual hearing on the ethics complaints filed against former Governor and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Hickenlooper will take place as scheduled.
The one caveat: the commission would hold off if both sides agree to delay the hearing until it can be held in-person sometime later this year.
Hickenlooper campaign spokeswoman Melissa Miller said Wednesday that the campaign would pursue an agreement to delay.
Last week, a motion filed by Hickenlooper attorney Mark Grueskin said the governor would not participate in a virtual hearing, citing technical problems and concerns about due process.
The ethics complaints filed against the former governor deal with travel related to a June 2018 trip to Turin, Italy, for the Bilderberg Meeting, an annual forum "designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America."
The complaints also included Hickenlooper's travel to Connecticut in March 2018 for the commissioning of the USS Colorado; private travel to New Jersey in January 2018 and to a wedding in Texas in April 2018; and travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in August 2018 to attend the American Enterprise Institute’s Jackson Hole Symposium.
Both the trip to Jackson Hole and the commissioning of the USS Colorado were tied to his official capacity as governor, Hickenlooper said in his response. He submitted receipts for the Bilderberg meeting.
Hickenlooper has claimed the complaints are frivolous and politically motivated. He faces former Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff in a June primary that will decide who will face U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in November.
The order, issued Thursday by commissioner and hearing officer Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa, said that the commission rejects Hickenlooper's assertion that he could withdraw from a Feb. 7, 2020, joint agreement to testify once "and then trade off cross and direct examinations. The stipulation is binding."
If Hickenlooper declines to appear, that is his prerogative, the order said. However, if the complainant — the Public Trust Institute — "wishes to subpoena Respondent to testify as part of its case in chief, Complainant may do so."
To date, PTI and its executive director, Suzanne Staiert, have not sought a subpoena compelling Hickenlooper's testimony.
The order states the hearing will proceed as scheduled via Webex on June 4, unless both parties agree to a delay. That agreement, known as a stipulation, must be filed by 2 p.m. Thursday.
The order makes it clear that if both parties agree to a delay, they would also need to provide details on how a hearing could be held in person, along with any accommodations they believe would be appropriate. And that will be binding, the order said.
In his motion last week, Hickenlooper complained about the delay in the proceedings. The original complaints were filed in October 2018, while Hickenlooper was still in office.
It is not unusual for a complaint to take a year or more, or even two years, to move to a hearing with the ethics commission.
The order rejected Hickenlooper's offer of written testimony, made in last week's motion, calling it an effort to avoid appearing at the hearing.
Hickenlooper's concerns about technical difficulties, such as faulty Internet connections, in no way would affect his rights of due process, the order continued. Holding a remote hearing is "wholly compatible with due process."
The concerns Hickenlooper's motion expressed with holding a remote hearing with exhibits, witness testimony or that some testimony could be interrupted by faculty internet connections does not "constitute a failure to meaningfully be heard, and certainly not one that can be determined ahead of time."
Additionally, the order rejected claims by Hickenlooper that a remote hearing would not allow his attorney to confront witnesses against him, and rejected the suggestion that the hearing format be decided by Denver District Court.
The order also pointed out that court and administrative hearings are taking place remotely all over the state.
Former Republican Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, who filed the original complaints on behalf of the Public Trust Institute, told Colorado Politics Wednesday that "we're ready to move forward with the commission's direction for a remote hearing next week. It's time for John Hickenlooper to show up and prove his innocence, or the commission to find him guilty of accepting illegal gifts."
McNulty said it's difficult to enter another round of stipulations with a Hickenlooper team that has now backed out of previous stipulations.
In a May 26 filing, PTI said "it had no objection to Respondent’s request to conduct the hearing in person" but did object to Hickenlooper's withdrawal from the Feb. 2020 agreement that said Hickenlooper would testify in the hearing. McNulty told Colorado Politics that they always preferred an in-person hearing but are willing to go forward with a remote one.
The May 26 motion also said that if Hickenlooper refuses to appear at the hearing, PTI would request the Commission enforce the subpoena in Denver District Court to compel his testimony.
Miller from the Hickenlooper campaign said the campaign is pleased that "the Commission has finally accepted the fact that both Governor Hickenlooper and the group behind the complaints believe that a remote hearing violates Governor Hickenlooper’s due process rights and that both parties believe this hearing should occur when it is safe to do so fully in person. We look forward to working with PTI to schedule a date so that Governor Hickenlooper can testify in person, as he has long wanted to do.”
Wednesday evening, Grueskin weighed in with a statement. They had hoped to find an August date for an in-person hearing, the campaign said.
This article has been updated.