Jefferson County District Court Judge Stephen Munsinger rejects challenge to candidacy of Jane Barnes for HD23
District Court Judge Stephen Munsinger (Jefferson County, First Judicial District) ruled Thursday (21 August 2014) rejected a challenge to the candidacy of Jane Barnes (appointed to fill a vacancy to run in HD23) filed by the Democrat party in Jefferson County against the Jefferson County Republicans earlier this month.
The complaint (“Verified Petition Pursuant to C.R.S. 1-1-113“) sought to remove Jane Barnes as the Republican candidate for House District 23 due to failure to meet candidate vacancy committee replacement filing deadlines, after the previous candidate designated at the party’s county assembly withdrew from the race:
Pursuant to C.R.S. §1-4-1002(5), the party assembly vacancy committee may fill a vacancy in designation under C.R.S. §1-4-1002(1), and file a certificate of designation and written acceptance by the vacancy designee “no later than the close of business on the sixty-seventh day before the primary election.”
Since the “sixty-seventh day before the primary election” this year was 18 April, and the JeffCo HD23 vacancy committee did not meet until 28 April (with the candidate affidavit filed with the Secretary of State on 2 May 2014), the challenge sought to nullify the candidate designation and remove Jane Barnes from the ballot, leaving incumbent Max Tyler without a major party opponent in the November elections.
Democrat Party Attorney Ed Ramey, representing the complainants, argued that not only should the candidate designation for Barnes be nullified, but that it was “too late” for Republicans to designate another candidate, too:
“They have not properly done what they need to do to put anyone on the ballot for House District 23,” he said. “They can only properly vote for people who are properly on the ballot. These are the rules of the game.”
(Denver Post, “Colorado House candidate Jane Barnes can represent GOP, judge rules“)
Although Ramey’s argument closely followed the letter of the law (the election statute), attorneys for the respondent argued that the candidate designation was in “substantial compliance” with the law and no sufficient grounds existed to nullify the candidacy:
Attorneys for the GOP, the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office argued that the Democrats were making a “hyper-technical” argument about deadlines that would have the effect of disenfranchising voters. (Denver Post, ibid)
Judge Munsinger agreed, and rejected the complaint, noting the lack of any “systemic disregard” for the election code in certifying Barnes’ candidacy.
The court’s ruling also likely eliminated the possibility of a challenge to a similarly belated candidate designation via vacancy committee appointment in Arapahoe County’s HD41 filed just over a week ago after a previous “placeholder” candidate had similarly withdrawn back in April. The newly-designated candidate for HD41, Molly Barrett, entered the race with eyes wide open and willing to fight in court, if necessary, to give voters of the district a choice in the general election.
The challenge highlights yet another problem with Colorado’s hopelessly tangled election laws, which have suffered from a “bandaid” approach (exacerbated by last year’s HB13-1303 and this year’s HB14-1164) offloading numerous confusing (and often contradictory) provisions onto the courts for “interpretation” and resolution.
It should be noted that the filing deadlines for vacancy committee replacements date back to when Colorado’s primary elections were held in August, rather than June; depending on the date of the nominating assemblies, it could literally be impossible for a vacancy committee to comply with the law and deadlines as written (particularly given the requirement to provide adequate written notice to vacancy committee members).
Colorado’s election and campaign finance laws, rules, and regulations stand in need of rigorous review and overhaul by the legislature – rather than being repeatedly kicked to the courts.
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.