The district court judge presiding over the criminal prosecution of Tina Peters won’t have to appear for a deposition in a separate contempt of court case against the indicted Mesa County clerk.
The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the deposition was unnecessary.
The prospect of Mesa County District Judge Matthew Barrett being deposed in the contempt of court case was threatening to roil the criminal prosecution of Peters, a 2020 election conspiracy theorist accused of crimes stemming from a security breach of her county’s voting system. Authorities allege Peters, a Republican, orchestrated the breach in an attempt to find evidence of election malfeasance.
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Barrett asked the Colorado Supreme Court in September to block the deposition, which was OK’d by a different district court judge.
Barrett claimed the deposition could be used to try to disqualify him from overseeing the criminal case.
“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.”
The Colorado Supreme Court agreed in its ruling Monday.
“Judge Barrett’s concern as to the possible misuse of his deposition is not merely hypothetical,” the court wrote in its Monday ruling. “Peters has already filed a motion to disqualify Judge Barrett in the criminal case because, in her view, Judge Barrett has allegedly manifested an attitude of hostility and ill will against her and her counsel and his ‘impartiality may reasonably be questioned’ by means of his ‘involvement and disqualification’ in the contempt proceeding.”
Legal debate around Peters’ request to depose Barrett and Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, a Republican who is prosecuting the criminal case against Peters, has been swirling for months.
Both Barrett and Rubinstein sought to quash the subpoenas ordering them to be deposed in the contempt of court case. But over the summer they were ordered by District Judge Paul R. Dunkelman, the judge appointed to oversee the contempt of court case, to appear for the depositions by Peters’ lawyer, Harvey Steinberg, a high-profile Denver defense attorney.
Barrett and Rubinstein were told they only had to answer questions related to the conduct that led to Peters being charged with contempt of court. Steinberg contended that he should be able to press Barrett on his “opinions on Ms. Peters’ credibility.”
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 in August and agreed to testify against Peters. In her plea agreement with Rubinstein’s office, Knisley said Peters recorded the proceedings at her request “and then lied to the judge about doing so, including acknowledging to Ms. Knisley that she lied.”
Rubinstein was deposed in September before the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to consider Barrett’s request.
In its ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court said Dunkelman “abused (his) discretion in compelling Judge Barrett to appear for a deposition.” The court said the deposition would be inappropriate since Peters could try to use it to disqualify Barrett from presiding over the criminal case.
Peters, who ran unsuccessfully this year to be Colorado’s secretary of state, was indicted by a grand jury in March.
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 could face a prison sentence if convicted.
Barrett scheduled a seven-day trial in the case to begin March 6. Peters’ next court appearance in the criminal matter is set for Jan. 30 for a motions hearing.