U.S. Supreme Court denies petition by former Secretary of State Scott Gessler

In this Oct. 5, 2018 photo, the U. S. Supreme Court building stands quietly before dawn in Washington. A couple of liberal Harvard law professors are lending their name to a new campaign that wants to build support for expanding the Supreme Court by four justices. The campaign being launched Wednesday also wants to increase the size of the lower federal courts to counteract what it terms “Republican obstruction, theft and procedural abuse” of the federal judiciary. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday announced it would not hear a ethics case submitted by former Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

Gessler sought a review of a decision made in June by the Colorado Supreme Court in an ethics case that dates back to 2012. The justices met in a Friday conference to discuss the case.

Gessler, an attorney who served a single term as secretary of state from 2011 to 2015, 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 Colorado Independent 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.

It levied a fine against Gessler for $1,514.88, which has not been paid, pending a 2013 court order that put the fine on hold until the legal case was resolved.

Gessler appealed the commission’s ruling to the Denver District Court, which ruled against him. He then went to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which ruled against him unanimously. In June, the Colorado Supreme Court also ruled against him, in a 6-0 decision.

> RELATED: COVER STORY | Colorado’s Ethics Commission on uncertain course

Gessler’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court sought a review of the ethics commission’s jurisdiction. He claimed that under Amendment 41, the state ethics amendment voters approved in 2006, the commission could only review “gifts, influence peddling, and standards of conduct and reporting requirements that expressly delegate enforcement” to the commission.

The Colorado Supreme Court in June rejected that jurisdictional challenge. The justices also upheld the commission’s oversight on a related state law that says that the “holding of public office or employment is a public trust,” and that the public trust is a part of an ethical standard of conduct subject to commission review.

Peg Perl, formerly of Colorado Ethics Watch, told Colorado Politics Monday that she is happy the issue is finally resolved, the fine will be paid and the decision will stand as guidance for future elected officials in Colorado.

Gessler did not return a request for comment, nor did the Independent Ethics Commission.

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

As of June, the Gessler lawsuit has cost Colorado taxpayers more than $500,000. Taxpayers will also be on the hook for any attorney costs on Gessler’s behalf for the U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

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