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Politics and Government

John Hickenlooper refuses to testify virtually, seeks to delay hearing on ethics complaint

The legal filing Friday comes ahead of June 4 ethics commission hearing on whether the former governor accepted illegal gifts

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper turns in his signatures to secure his spot in the 2020 U.S. Senate Democratic primary on Feb. 19, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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John Hickenlooper is now refusing to testify on an ethics complaint against him and is threatening to file a lawsuit to block a hearing on his case.

In a legal filing Friday, an attorney for Hickenlooper said the former governor would not participate in the June 4 hearing before the Colorado Ethics Commission because the video conferencing format denies his due process rights to confront witnesses and consult in-person with his attorney. 

Hickenlooper, a Demoratic candidate for U.S. Senate backed by national party leaders, faces a complaint originally filed in October 2018 that he accepted illegal gifts and failed to disclose flights on private jets and other travel arrangements. A prolonged preliminary investigation and series of delays — exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic — pushed the hearing in the case to a week before ballots hit the mail for the June 30 Democratic primary.

The candidate’s “reputational interests are at stake here, and it is disappointing that the commission’s embrace of a flawed technology will almost certainly deny him the due process to which he is entitled,” wrote Mark Grueskin, Hickenlooper’s taxpayer-funded attorney, in the legal filing.

MORE: Hickenlooper faces renewed pressure and questions about his administration’s spending in final months

Neither Hickenlooper nor the Public Trust Institute, the dark-money conservative organization behind the complaint, wanted a virtual hearing on the facts in the case. Hickenlooper wanted to avoid a trial entirely and resolve the matter with legal filings, which commission members rejected. The institute wanted an in-person hearing.

In early May, commission Chairwoman Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa set the virtual hearing date as a compromise given the public health concerns regarding COVID-19. The commission held a test session Tuesday riddled with technological challenges, according to Hickenlooper’s attorney.

It’s unclear how the commission will proceed. If it moves forward as scheduled, the commission will need to subpoena Hickenlooper, who has vowed to file a lawsuit of his own to ask a district court to determine the appropriate procedure.

Colorado’s “safer at home” period and a related public health order are scheduled to end Tuesday, so the hearing could move forward in person unless Gov. Jared Polis acts to extend the limits on movement and gatherings.

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Suzanne Staiert, an attorney for the Public Trust Institute, agrees with the concerns about due process for the virtual format and continued to press for a public hearing. But she suggested Hickenlooper’s latest filing represents an effort to evade accountability. “He’s repeatedly committed to testify. Now I think he’s realized he has no good answers for his conduct so he’s trying to avoid the questions,” she told The Sun. 

A Hickenlooper campaign spokeswoman pointed out that the former governor’s team answered commission staff questions for the preliminary ethics investigation.

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