Ethics panel hands over notes from closed meetings to judge for review

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission meets behind closed doors for an executive session at its Denver headquarters. (Photo/Ernest Luning)

The Colorado Independent Ethics Commission meets behind closed doors for an executive session at its Denver headquarters. (Photo/Ernest Luning)

The state’s top ethics panel has turned over to the Denver District Court copies of all the notes and other records made during five secret meetings a judge said were held in violation of Colorado Open Meetings Law. The judge plans to review the notes and decide whether they should be made public in response to an open records request and lawsuit filed by The Colorado Independent.

Earlier this week, Chief Judge Larry Naves ordered the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission to release unedited recordings made during seven closed-door meetings the commission held from January to May after finding the ethics commission didn’t follow state law when it met in secret to discuss ethical questions posed by public officials. In addition, Naves said he wanted to review any notes made during five meetings the commission didn’t record — including four meetings when commissioners deliberated on an ethical complaint they eventually dismissed against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman — to determine whether the written records fall under a “work product” protection that could keep them confidential.

Late Tuesday, the ethics commission released nearly 13 hours of audio recordings it made during more than 46 hours it spent in closed-door meetings between January 14 and May 6 in response to a court order. The new audio files include two hours of conversations government lawyers redacted last month when they handed over almost 11 hours of recordings to the Independent after a court hearing on the open records lawsuit. At the hearing, lawyers with the Colorado attorney general’s office argued some of the recordings should be kept confidential because they were privileged attorney-client communications, but Naves disagreed and ordered them released.

In its lawsuit, the Independent argued any records of the 12 closed-door meeting, including notes and audio recordings, should be released to the public because the ethics commission didn’t follow the law when it convened in secret and that commissioners had discussions Colorado law forbids public officials from having behind closed doors.

The judge also ordered the ethics commission to pay the Independent’s attorneys’ fees. The lawyer representing the Independent, Christopher Beall, has until next week to submit an application to the court detailing charges.

Here’s the notice the ethics commission filed with the court late Thursday:

NOTICE OF LODGING OF PROTECTED DOCUMENTS

The Independent Ethics Commission of the State of Colorado and Jane T. Feldman, in her official capacity as the executive director of the Independent Ethics Commission of the State of Colorado (collectively referred to as the “Commission”), by and through their counsel and in accordance with this Court’s Order dated August 31, 2009, hereby lodges with the Court, for an in camera review, copies of all notes and written records in the Commission’s possession regarding the closed meetings that occurred on February 20, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 31, 2009, April 13, 2009 and April 16, 2009.

The ethics commission was created in 2006 when Colorado voters approved Amendment 41, touted as a measure to increase accountability and transparency in government. The five-member commission considers ethical violations and enforces ethical standards for public officials and government employees. Its members are appointed by the governor, both chambers of the General Assembly, the Colorado Supreme Court and the commission itself.

The Colorado Independent is published by the Center for Independent Media, a non-profit and non-partisan organization that also publishes The Washington Independent in the nation’s capital, and state-focused politics and policy news sites in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico.

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Ernest Luning

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