Colorado Ethics Watch posts Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s legal bills: $122k

Secretary of State Scott Gessler testifies to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission

testifies to the Colorado Independent Commission in June regarding a complaint he misused state money. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

spiked the ball Thursday when it posted copies of the legal bills Secretary of State Scott Gessler incurred because of the complaint Ethics Watch filed last year. In the flap over about $1,400 Gessler spent from his state discretionary fund last year, taxpayers ponied up $122,218.10 for his defense through June 30.

In addition, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission has spent at least $63,869 in taxpayers’ money to investigate and prosecute the case, as well as defend itself in motions and lawsuits Team Gessler filed in response. The bills, however, are still coming in, executive director Jane Feldman said Thursday.

By the time the five-member, bipartisan ethics commission found Gessler had “breached the public trust for private gain” in June, he had already paid back much of the money. He was fined another $1,514.88.

Ethics Watch director Luis Toro said the system is unfair when public officials can finance their defense at taxpayer’s expense. He dragged Gessler’s high-profile lawyer David Lane into his argument, though i don’t think Lane with quibble with his Toro’s characterization.

“Our ethics system is extremely unbalanced when a state official who misused public funds is allowed to spend more than $122,000 on lawyers to defend the indefensible, while those who file the complaint are expected to prosecute the case without any taxpayer support whatsoever,” Toro said in a statement.

“In this case, Scott Gessler was caught red-handed and even the best trial lawyer in the state could not get him off the hook. But the system we have now is not what the voters expected when they created the ethics commission. The legislature must step in and level the playing field so that Colorado citizens can exercise their right to ask the IEC whether a violation has occurred, and get an investigation without having to face the best defense the state treasury can buy. When the legislature convenes in January, they should hold hearings to find out how these lawyers were allowed to run up enormous bills with no oversight, and to change the law so that the ethics investigation process is no longer overwhelmingly biased in favor of the public official suspected of misconduct.”

Gessler’s spokesman, Andrew Cole, countered that Ethics Watch had instead waged a taxpayer-subsidized smear campaign against Gessler. Besides the ethics commission’s spending, those who donate to Ethics Watch, a nonprofit, get a tax break, he said. The Independent Ethics Commission, meanwhile, strayed from limiting gifts to public officials, its mission under the Colorado constitutional Amendment 41 in 2006, he said.

“We agree on one count: this is not what Coloradans expected when they passed Amendment 41,” Cole said. “Unfortunately, after a complaint from a partisan organization, the IEC spent over six months fumbling through a flawed process that disregarded basic due process rights. If anyone other than Scott Gessler was treated this way, the left’s attack machine would be up in arms.”

Gessler used his discretionary fund to pay for his trip to the Republican National Lawyers Association conference in Florida last summer. About the same time, he kept the remaining $117.99 left in the annual discretionary fund, rather than submit receipts that he said accounted for hundreds of dollars more for unreimbursed mileage in his personal car for state business.

After the ruling Gessler adopted new office policies to make clear what the discretionary fund can be used for.

Source Article from http://feeds.denverpost.com/~r/dp-blogs/~3/8We7Uf6wg0s/

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