State Sen. Marble sues Colorado ethics commission over decision

Author: Marianne Goodland - July 10, 2018 - Updated: July 26, 2018

MarbleRep. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)

State Sen. Vicki Marble, a Fort Collins Republican, has filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission challenging its decision earlier this year that she had violated the state’s constitutional amendment on ethics.

Marble’s lawsuit was filed June 29 in Denver District Court.

In the complaint, Marble’s attorney, Marcy Glenn, challenged the ethics commission’s decision to issue a majority report when there was no clear majority on the panel.

When the commission was at its full five-member strength on April 9, it voted 3-2 to find that Marble had violated the amendment’s limitations on gifts to lawmakers.

But two months later, the commission found itself in a difficult position when it completed a majority and minority report, both of which are intended to reflect the commissioners’ deliberations that took place over several months. Commissioner Gary Reiff, who had voted with the majority in April, resigned in May. That meant the majority report had only two members in favor and two members who supported the minority report.

Marble’s ethics problems surfaced when she hosted a town hall on Feb. 15, 2017, at the CB & Potts restaurant in Broomfield. The town hall was about oil and gas, a controversial issue in a community looking at a ballot issue later in the year to boost oversight of oil and gas activity. Broomfield voters approved Measure 301 last November, despite the oil and gas industry providing more than $478,000 in cash and non-monetary contributions to fight the proposal.

The commission ruled that the cost of the town hall, $1,121.18, was a gift to Marble since she was the host, moderator, a speaker and issued the invitations to the community to attend. But the town hall’s real sponsor, according to the commission, was Denver-based Extraction Oil & Gas, although attendees were never told about that, either through the invitations issued by Marble or the event itself.

According to testimony presented in a Jan. 8, 2018, hearing, the event started out as a meeting on Feb. 1, 2017, in Marble’s office. That meeting included the senator; her then-aide, Sheryl Ann Fernandez; two people associated with Extraction Oil and Gas; and two Broomfield City Council members.

Marble suggested a forum that would feature elected officials from Windsor who had successfully resolved oil and gas development issues.

That was the genesis of the Feb. 15, 2017, event, which was organized by an Extraction contractor and Fernandez, who suggested the venue, designed the invitation, developed the agenda and sent out the invitations, including to a mailing list for her private public relations firm.

It was also advertised to members of the Broomfield County GOP, of which Fernandez is the county chair.

Broomfield resident Sarah Hall Mann said she noticed that an Extraction contractor, Brian Cain, paid the bill at the event, and she filed an ethics complaint in May 2017.

Commissioners in the majority argued that the lack of transparency is what made the forum a gift. Under Amendment 41, a lawmaker cannot accept a gift valued at more than $59, a figure adjusted from time to time for inflation. Marble was fined $2,242.36, twice the cost of a Feb. 15, 2017, event.

Glenn claimed in the Denver District Court filing that Reiff’s resignation meant he did not participate in adopting the written opinion. Finding a violation and imposing a penalty in an opinion backed by less than a majority of commissioners violates the IECs’ rules of procedure, Amendment 41 and Marble’s right to due process under the U.S. and Colorado constitutions, Glenn wrote.

However, the majority opinion did point out that Reiff had voted to find Marble had violated the ethics amendment while still a commissioner. He also supported assessing the fine.

The commission was scheduled to discuss the lawsuit in an executive session Tuesday.

So far, Glenn’s services have cost taxpayers $58,543.99, according to the General Assembly’s legal services department. That’s as of June 8 and does not include the costs for filing the lawsuit.

Taxpayers will also foot the bill for the ethics commission’s legal services in the lawsuit, which will be provided by the Colorado Attorney General’s office.

As to filling the fifth seat on the commission? That’s up to Gov. John Hickenlooper, under Amendment 41 guidelines.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.