Former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s ethics hearing is still on track for June 4, just weeks before he will appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary election in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race.
Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission ruled Wednesday that Hickenlooper would get a fair hearing over video teleconference, just as he would in person. The commission also rejected Hickenlooper’s request to submit written comments instead of participating in a live hearing.
The hearing could be delayed if Hickenlooper’s accusers agree to make a joint request, but they indicated in an interview on Wednesday they don’t plan to do that.
The ethics complaint, filed by the recently formed nonprofit Public Trust Institute, alleges that Hickenlooper improperly accepted free air travel from friends and supporters, a charge that he has denied.
The matter was supposed to be heard in March, but the schedule was scrambled by the emergence of COVID-19. The ethics commission instead scheduled a video teleconference hearing for June.
In a filing last week asking for a delay, Hickenlooper’s legal team argued that the virtual meeting wouldn’t allow Hickenlooper to “confront his accusers ‘face-to-face,’” and it warned of technical glitches in an earlier test of the technology. Additionally, it argued the former governor wouldn’t be able to safely meet with his attorney before the hearing. The filing said Hickenlooper did not plan to appear at the virtual hearing.
Ultimately, the commission ruled that the online hearing does not violate Hickenlooper’s due process and is actually “most expeditious and satisfies all due process requirements.” The commission said that it would allow a delay only if both parties agreed, but that commissioners will insist on either a virtual or in-person hearing. Hickenlooper can choose whether or not to speak unless PTI compels him to do so with a subpoena.
“The IEC finds that Respondent’s suggested solution of submitting written testimony in lieu of a hearing would fall short of procedural due process requirements and is plainly an attempt to avoid appearing at hearing,” the commission found.
The ethics complaint focuses on whether or not airplane flights taken by Hickenlooper during his governorship were illegal gifts. Hickenlooper's team has argued that the travel was a mix of personal and business, that it was allowed under various state rules, and that none of the providers attempted to unduly influence him. Hickenlooper's team believes that a national conservative political group, America Rising Corp., engineered the complaint.
Frank McNulty, who leads PTI, agreed with Hickenlooper that an in-person hearing “would be best.” But he told CPR News he had no plans to join Hickenlooper’s team to request a delay. That means the June 4 schedule is likely to hold.
“We’re ready to proceed next week should the commission decide to do so,” McNulty said.
He said his group would consider using a subpoena to compel Hickenlooper’s participation.