June 27, 2013 Updated: June 27, 2013 at 8:17 pm
A partisan effort to thwart the recall of Sen. John Morse shifted into gear Thursday as attorney Mark Grueskin on asked the deputy secretary of state to concede that the state agency has given poor advice to recall petitioners for at least the last decade.
"I know we are putting you in a tough position," Grueskin said. "The right of recall is fundamental and it needs to be liberally construed but that doesn't mean we have to go crazy."
Grueskin argued at length that the petitioners omitted a legally required phrase in the petition explaining to voters that Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat, would be replaced if recalled by a successor elected by the people.
Richard Westfall, an attorney representing the recall backers, the El Paso Freedom Defense Fund, said the secretary of state's office has not required that language on recall petitions for the past 10 years because it isn't necessary.
He accused Grueskin of being a master of finding ambiguity and interpretations in the law that really don't exist.
"This entire fallacy was based upon that there was a mistake," Westfall said. "There was no mistake."
Morse is one of four Democratic legislators targeted for recall this summer because of their support of new gun laws, some of which take effect Monday.
Enough signatures were turned in to place recalls for Morse and Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, on the ballot. Both recalls have been challenged with the same argument.
The hearing, in Denver, lasted several hours with Grueskin questioning two employees of Secretary of State Scott Gessler who were responsible for approving the petition.
Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, testified that a poll of Senate District 11 - conducted at the bequest of Grueskin - showed that 46 percent of voters in the district knew how Morse would be replaced if recalled. The majority of voters polled selected other possibilities, including a gubernatorial appointment or a committee that would fill the vacant post.
Westfall said the poll was irrelevant, because there's no way to know how many of the 380 people polled actually signed the petition.
"The people who signed probably had a lot more knowledge about the process," Westfall said.
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, who presided over the hearing, has until Wednesday to make a decision.
If Staiert rules in favor of Grueskin and the constituent from Senate District 11 that brought the protest, all 10,137 signatures deemed valid to put Morse on a ballot in coming months would be invalidated. It would also be an admission that the secretary of state's office has interpreted the law incorrectly for at least 10 years and provided recall petition gatherers with inaccurate templates to follow when drafting their petitions.
If she rules in favor of Westfall, Morse will likely face a recall election asking voters if he should be ousted from office and if so who should replace him.
The two sides can appeal Staiert's decision to district court, and are expected to draw the process out for weeks, at least.
The recall opponents asked the deputy secretary of state to extend the Wednesday deadline, but that was quickly rejected.
The Morse lawyers also hinted that more protests may be filed before July 3, which marks the 15-day deadline to bring a case against the recall.
Contact Megan Schrader