DENVER — In a surprise move Wednesday morning, the attorney for two Democratic lawmakers facing recall elections asked the Secretary of State’s office to recuse itself from ruling on protests.
Mark Grueskin asked Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, a former judge who is presiding over protest hearings in both recalls, to recuse herself because her boss, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, actually advised Republicans in Pueblo on how to wage a successful recall against Sen. Angela Giron.
“A recall election is brutal so you need to get all your ducks in a row,” Gessler advised a group of 100 Pueblo Republicans back in March, according to an article in the Pueblo Chieftain that’s the basis for Grueskin’s motion.
“You don’t want to wait until the clock’s started to get organized.”
Giron and Senate President John Morse, both Democrats, are facing recalls for their support of gun control legislation this year; Gessler’s office has already ruled that enough petitions have been turned in to force a special election in both senate districts.
Gessler, who walked out of his office and encountered reporters following the hearing, declined to comment on the suggestion that he was biased in favor of the recall organizers and that his own bias was shared by his deputy.
Staiert, who didn’t expect attorneys to even show up for Wednesday’s scheduled protest hearing in the Giron case — because Grueskin’s argument to disqualify Giron recall petitions is the same as what he laid out last week in the Morse hearing, both sides had agreed to forgo a formal hearing and submit briefs by email — said that she and Gessler have never discussed either recall case.
“The Secretary and I have had no conversations about this recall,” she said. “He is not involved in the decision-making process on any hearing that I conduct.
“But, I understand that this is based on an appearance, not any allegation that there is a true conflict.”
Grueskin, after the hearing, acknowledged as much.
“It looks bad for the Secretary to have gone down to Pueblo and, in essence, have coached the proponents and the Republican Party on how to do this and then have his designee sit in judgment,” Grueskin told reporters. “It looks bad.”
Richard Westfall, the attorney representing the groups trying to recall Morse and Giron, told reporters that there’s no proof that Gessler’s bias extends to Staiert.
“She is the one who’s the hearing officer, she is the one making the decision,” he said. “I don’t think any allegations regarding the Secretary — there’s no indication that there’s any bias by the deputy secretary who’s hearing the protest.”
But Grueskin pointed to the recent Independent Ethics Commission on Gessler’s use of his office’s discretionary funds to cover the cost of a flight home from the Republican National Convention last year and how, during those hearings, Staiert was defending her boss.
“There was just a process at the Independent Ethics Commission where they were very much acting one for the other,” Grueskin said. “People perceive based on that kind of track record that they are linked.”
On Twitter, Staiert fired away from her newly created account, calling the proceeding “a kangaroo court” and, after the IEC denied her the chance to testify, that there was a “#waronwomen”.
“Mock trial high school observers know more about the rules of evidence than the #IEC,” she tweeted.
Staiert is expected to issue her ruling on the protest in Morse’s case, which Grueskin argued before her last week, before the end of the day Wednesday.