The Colorado Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from deposing the judge presiding over the case against her in connection with an unrelated contempt of court matter.
It’s the latest twist in a weekslong legal drama threatening to roil the criminal case against Peters, a 2020 election conspiracy theorist accused of crimes stemming from a security breach of her county’s voting system.
The state Supreme Court ordered Peters to submit written arguments by Oct. 5 as to why the deposition should be allowed. Mesa County District Judge Matthew Barrett then has 21 days to reply. The Supreme Court will then determine whether to allow the deposition.
The court’s ruling came after Barrett on Wednesday at about 2 a.m. filed an 11th-hour appeal to keep his deposition, scheduled for midday Wednesday, from happening.
“A deposition significantly increases the risk that Judge Barrett will be accused of partiality or bias in (Peters’) criminal case,” state attorneys representing Barrett wrote in their 24-page motion to the Colorado Supreme Court. “There is every reason to think that (Peters) could attempt to use the deposition to undermine the perception that the judge is an impartial arbiter.”
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Debate around Peters’ request to depose Barrett and Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, who is prosecuting the criminal case against Peters, has been swirling for weeks.
Both Barrett and Rubinstein sought to quash the subpoenas ordering them to be deposed by Peters’ lawyer, Harvey Steinberg, a high-profile Denver defense attorney.
But they were ordered by District Judge Paul R. Dunkelman, the judge appointed to oversee the contempt of court case, to appear for the depositions, though they were told they only had to answer questions related to the conduct that led to Peters being charged with contempt of court.
The contempt of court charge, which is being handled as a civil matter, stems from an allegation that Peters used an iPad to record a portion of a February court proceeding for her former chief deputy, Belinda Knisley, and then lied to Barrett when he asked about it.
Rubinstein filed a civil contempt charge against Peters as a result.
Barrett was also overseeing Knisley’s case, before she pleaded guilty last month and agreed to testify against Peters. In her plea agreement with Rubinstein’s office, Knisley said Peters filmed the proceedings at her request “and then lied to the judge about doing so, including acknowledging to Ms. Knisley that she lied.”
Barrett and Rubinstein argued that deposing them wasn’t necessary because they didn’t actually see the alleged filming, but rather were told about it by an employee of the district attorney’s office.
Dunkelman ruled Barrett and Rubinstein only had to answer questions during the deposition about what they saw, but Steinberg contended that he should be able to press Barrett on his “opinions on Ms. Peters’ credibility.”
(The Colorado Supreme Court on Wednesday also ordered Dunkelman to explain his ruling by Oct. 5.)
Dunkelman was set to review the deposition transcripts to determine whether Barrett and Rubinstein could be called as witnesses in the contempt of court trial, which was originally scheduled for next week.
The judge and district attorney both feared that being named as witnesses in the case could disqualify them from participating in the criminal trial against Peters, which is receiving national attention.
(Rubinstein was deposed at 9 a.m. Wednesday, apparently before the Colorado Supreme Court’s order was issued.)
Steinberg has never responded to Colorado Sun questions about the cases against Peters, including a message left for him Wednesday.
Peters, who ran unsuccessfully this year to be Colorado’s secretary of state, was indicted by a grand jury in March.
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She is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony; one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 5 felony; one count of criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony; one count of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony; one count of identity theft, a Class 4 felony; and one count of first-degree official misconduct, a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Peters appeared in Barrett’s courtroom in the criminal case on Wednesday afternoon where she pleaded not guilty to all charges against her.
Barrett scheduled a seven-day trial in the case to begin March 6. Peters’ next court appearance in the criminal matter was set for Jan. 30 for a motions hearing.
Colorado Sun staff writer Olivia Prentzel contributed to this report.