GREELEY — The Colorado Supreme Court has denied the request of Weld County Commissioner Julie Cozad to dismiss the Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) decision to take jurisdiction over Weld County in a case against her.
Cozad, who was originally represented by Jason Dunn of Denver-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, is now being represented by Weld County Attorney Bruce Barker.
Cozad had previously said the county was not paying her legal fees. It is not known if the county has reimbursed her for money paid to Dunn. Neither Barker nor Cozad could be reached for comment.
The IEC is an independent commission created to watchdog public officials in the form of gifts and other possible improprieties that may cross ethical boundaries.
The case has been ongoing since February 2017, when Johnstown resident Ellen DeLorenzo first took her complaint to the Weld County Council. The council ruled there was no conflict of interest in Cozad accepting an invitation from Noble Energy to attend a fundraiser on Jan. 27, 2017 in Greeley for North Colorado Medical Center.
However, the council did not have jurisdiction over bribery/gift complaints because Weld County’s Charter exempted elected officials from the policy. In July 2017, DeLorenzo filed a complaint with the IEC alleging Cozad violated Article XXIX of the Colorado Constitution by accepting a gift of more than $59.
Cozad attended the event with her husband and sat at a sponsor table with seats valued at $2,500 each. She said she paid a total of $370 for the seats, $150 for the value of the meal and $220 in donation to NCMC. DeLorenzo argued that even if the lowest value ticket was considered ($550 per couple), Cozad still received the benefit of the event for $180 less than the public paid.
DeLorenzo also noted that Cozad voted in favor of a use by special review request requested by Noble three weeks later. It was the presenter in that case, Greg Pickerel, who invited Cozad to sit at his table.
Article XXIX prohibits elected officials from accepting gifts for themselves, their spouses or children valued at more than $59. If found in violation, Cozad faces public admonition and a fine double the amount of the difference. Depending on how the IEC rules, Cozad’s fine could be as low as $242 or as high as $9,142.
In September 2017, the IEC determined the allegations were not frivolous and then spent several months determining whether it had jurisdiction. Cozad argued that because Weld County was a Home Rule Charter county that it did not have jurisdiction.
However, IEC commissioners said the county charter did not have a gift ban, and the anti-bribery ban the county cited it did have was exempt for local officials, putting the county under the IEC’s jurisdiction.
De Lorenzo said Friday she was surprised when she got an email Friday from Dino Ioannides the executive director of the IEC saying the commission was likely to get briefed on the Supreme Court’s ruling at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday.
De Lorenzo said she was not notified by Barker or Cozad of their intent to file with the state’s highest court.
In Barker’s petition, filed March 19, he asked the court to order the IEC to show cause why the ICE’s jurisdictional finding should not be vacated and the complaint dismissed.
The court issued its ruling denying the request, three days later. The investigation by the IEC will continue.
As she has said all along, De Lorenzo said she was pleased with the court’s ruling because she trusts the process. She was, however, upset at the news Weld County taxpayers were now paying legal expenses for Cozad.
“Commissioner Cozad not only has violated the gift ban and exhibited an appearance of impropriety, I learned today that she has transferred her legal representation in this complaint to the tax payers of Weld County,” De Lorenzo said. “The burden for this cost should not be the taxpayer.”
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