As first reported by The Denver Post reporter Seth Klaymann, two freshmen Democratic Colorado House Representatives have filed a lawsuit against their own political party leadership as well as the Republican Party House leadership claiming that the leadership of the Colorado House of Representatives has broken a segment of what are generally known as the Colorado Sunshine Laws.
Their suit alleges “a ‘series of long-standing practices’ that violated the state’s open-meetings laws” (OML). It goes on to assert that this essentially eliminated the public from the legislative process during the recent legislative session.
The two representatives, Elisabeth Epps (House District 6) and Bob Marshall (House District 43) were sworn in for their first legislative session just this past January. Their lawsuit alleges “pervasive violations” of Colorado public meetings law by lawmakers from both parties during the session.
Their lawsuit says that the vehicle for open-meeting law violations has been the use of encrypted messaging, including text messaging among the parties’ leadership as bills advanced, (in their opinion) effectively holding private negotiations rather than debating points in open meetings. The messaging app they cited is Signal. Because it has an option that could automatically delete conversations, the two say that its use violates open-meeting laws if it involves at least two legislators.
Their lawsuit also pointed out that legislators from both political parties would gather weekly, in unannounced meetings, and according to their suit, the gatherings would not be listed on calendars. It names House Speaker Julie McCluskie and Majority Leader Monica Duran, who lead the Democrats. It also names as a defendant Minority Leader Mike Lynch, the top Republican lawmaker in the House, as well as the entire Democratic and Republican caucuses, and the House itself, as defendants (apparently excepting the two lawsuit filers).
Unanswered in their lawsuit is how any conversations among legislators ahead of committee sessions or floor votes should be conducted, if lawmakers can’t talk with each other; it equates a distance conversation to an actual in-person meeting of legislators. The lawsuit does not appear to say that the private conversations actually resulted in final decisions that did not go on to publicly-noticed committee hearings, or floor debates, or floor votes.
For more information about Colorado Sunshine Laws follow this link, courtesy of our fellow Colorado News Collaborative member the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.