Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint last month asserting that GOP candidate for governor and Colorado licensed attorney Scott McInnis violated professional ethics rules when he plagiarized articles for which he was paid $300,000. The Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel took up the investigation in July and gave McInnis 20 days to file a defense (pdf). The deadline came and went last Wednesday.
McInnis attorney Gary Blum reportedly filed for an extension to September 3, by which time the voting in the Aug. 10 primary will be well tallied and McInnis will either have been defeated by GOP opponent Dan Maes or he will have decided to continue his embattled campaign into the general election or to withdraw from the race altogether.
Blum, an attorney at Denver-based Silver & DeBoskey, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation. Calls to the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel seeking confirmation that McInnis sought an extension were not immediately returned.
The Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel is a branch of the offices of the Colorado Supreme Court. It’s the equivalent of the bar association that in other states oversees the legal profession and investigates attorney misconduct.
In its complaint (pdf), Ethics Watch, a government watchdog group focused on questions of transparency, cited Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, which mainly state that a licensed attorney in Colorado shall not engage in acts that involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro wrote to the OARC arguing that, if media reports on the $300,000 contract McInnis received from the Hasan Family Foundation were correct, McInnis likely violated professional ethical rules and should face disciplinary action.
McInnis, Toro wrote, appears to have “leveraged his Congressional experience and expertise to obtain a lucrative contract with a private foundation to write articles on water issues. Mr. McInnis then submitted as his own work articles that were partially written by a water engineer and partially copied from writings by Gregory Hobbs, then a water attorney in private practice and now a justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.”
McInnis, a six-term congressman, has partly hedged about the reports, suggesting his research assistant may have copied the articles, but mostly he has admitted that he did not author the articles he submitted as his own work product. “I accept responsibility,” he said as the reports of the plagiarism broke, and “I have to make this right.”
“It’s a serious matter,” Toro told the Colorado independent. “And the [Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel] clearly thinks so, too.
“In journalism, of course, this is a career-ending offense, but here it’s also a matter of good government. We’re looking at it [where] a former congressman left office and appears to have cashed in… This is a public interest issue. There’s a genuine concern because it looks like, to the public, that holding [elected] office is about… leveraging the office for cash.”
If the OARC rules against McInnis, according to Toro, he would likely face a public hearing or be required to attend ethics school.