Former state Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Boulder County Democrat, on Friday pleaded guilty to criminal charges filed after she lied about her place of residence to run for reelection last year in a more politically favorable district.
Bernett, appearing in court Friday, pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony, and perjury, a Class 1 misdemeanor. She was granted a deferred sentence, which means she won’t face prison time as long as she completes the terms of the deferred sentence, including two years of probation and 150 hours of community service.
Bernett resigned from the legislature on Jan. 9, the first day of the 2023 lawmaking term. She was charged in November, days before the election. As part of her guilty plea, other charges Bernett faced in the case were dismissed.
Bernett tearfully apologized as she pleaded guilty and was sentenced. “My life has always involved public service,” she said.
David Kaplan, Bernett’s attorney, called the situation an aberration.
The charges stem from a complaint filed in September with the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office by Theresa Watson, chair of the Boulder County Republicans. The complaint asked prosecutors to look into whether Bernett broke the law by casting a ballot in the June 28 primary while registered at an address where she doesn’t actually live.
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Bernett on Nov. 3, 2021, changed the address of her voter registration from a 4,000-square-foot home in Longmont to a 700-square-foot apartment in Louisville, so she could run for reelection in House District 12, which leans heavily in Democrats’ favor, according to a nonpartisan analysis of election results dating back to 2016.
The Longmont home was drawn into the adjacent House District 19 during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process in 2021. The new District 19 favors Republicans and was represented by GOP Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie.
Colorado law requires that candidates for state legislature live in their districts for at least a year before Election Day. (Election Day 2022 was Tuesday, Nov. 8.)
Woog lost his reelection bid in November to Democrat Jennifer Parenti by about 500 votes, despite the Republican lean of House District 19.
Bernett won reelection to her second two-year term in the legislature Nov. 8, beating Republican Anya Kirvan by 54 percentage points despite the criminal charges, which were announced on Nov. 4, weeks after ballots had been mailed to voters.
After Bernett’s resignation, a Boulder County vacancy committee selected Louisville City Councilman Kyle Brown to fill her seat until a new representative is voted into office in the 2024 election.
Watson’s complaint cited Facebook posts from Bernett that appeared to show her still living at the Longmont home. It also included photographs of the Louisville apartment that appeared to show it vacant.
“As a result of the investigation, it is alleged that Ms. Bernett falsely represented her primary residence over a nine-month period,” the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office said when charges were announced. “It is alleged that, although she rented an apartment in Louisville in order to qualify for elected office, she did not actually live there. And, in so doing, she filed false, sworn documents with the Secretary of State’s Office. It is also alleged that by misrepresenting her residence, she voted in a primary election in a district in which she does not actually live.”
In accepting Bernett’s guilty plea, Boulder County District Court Judge Nancy W. Salomone said she had no doubt the former lawmaker would be able to comply with the terms of the deferred sentenced. She also noted the seriousness of the case.
“If you’re living and breathing in this country, you know that trust in public servants is fractured and endangered in an unusual way,” Salomone said. “When one person takes an action that encourages that distrust that our country has in its public servants, it endangers all public servants. And it endangers democracy.”