Former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is in the clear after an ethics complaint filed against him was dismissed Monday by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
The Williams complaint, filed by Denver attorney Tyler Boschert in October 2018, was to go to a formal hearing Monday.
Both Boschert and Assistant Attorney General Anne Marie Mangiardi told the commission Monday that pursuing the complaint was not in the public interest and jointly sought the complaint’s dismissal. The commission voted unanimously to do so.
The original complaint alleged Williams, now Colorado Springs Councilman, misused state funds for purchases made for personal use. That included the alleged use of a discretionary fund within the Secretary of State’s Office between July 2015 and April 2017 to buy clothing worn by Williams to the Denver Rustlers charity fundraiser at the Colorado State Fair.
Williams was also reimbursed with state funds for his Colorado Bar Association dues in 2017 and for continuing legal education (CLE) classes in July 2016 and July 2018.
Almost all of the items listed in Boschert’s complaint, however, fell outside of the commission’s one-year statute of limitations. Under commission rules, a complaint must be filed within 12 months of the alleged violation.
Everything in Boschert’s complaint, save for the July 2018 CLE and the bar association dues in 2017, fell outside that one-year window, and the commission dismissed those items.
At the time of the complaint’s filing, then-Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert called the complaint “a political stunt timed for the election.” Office policy under Williams was to reimburse any attorney on the secretary of state’s staff for CLEs and legal dues, including for the secretary himself.
Boschert tried one last time, in April, to ask the commission to reconsider those other items, but the commission rejected that motion. He told the commission that after the April 22 hearing, he conferred (and agreed) with Mangiardi, who said the remaining issues are a matter of professional development and are commonly purchased in state government.
Commissioner Bill Leone noted during Monday’s meeting that complaints have a reputational impact. He chided Boschert and others like him for misusing the commission as a “political vehicle to tarnish someone’s reputation.” But he also complimented Boschert for voluntarily withdrawing the complaint, which he said was rare, and said he hoped others might follow in that vein.
Williams did not attend Monday’s hearing, leaving the matter to Mangiardi, who represented him.
It’s been standard practice for the secretary of state, whether in office or after, to be represented by the Attorney General’s Office on legal matters. But once Williams left office earlier this year, after losing his re-election bid to now-Secretary of State Jena Griswold, it appeared he was no longer entitled to representation by the Attorney General’s Office unless approved by Griswold.
The Attorney General’s Office, in emails obtained by Colorado Politics, cited a change in policy from Griswold regarding whether a secretary of state needed to hold bar association membership. The Secretary of State’s Office denied that Williams had been refused representation and said the Attorney General’s Office did not speak for the secretary of state.
Staiert told the Attorney General’s Office in a January email that “refusing to defend him after he leaves office is bad policy and unjust. I have practiced government law for 25 years, and I have never heard of a government refusing to defend someone for an action that was in the scope of their employment just because they are no longer employed.” She threatened to sue.
The attorney general’s staff began representing Williams on the complaint in March.
Between January and the change of representation in March, Staiert, his former deputy, represented Williams on the complaint.
Williams told Colorado Politics on Monday that he is “gratified that the IEC dismissed the complaint. The expenditures in question had already been approved by the state auditors and were in accordance with long-standing office policy that existed before I was secretary.”
Colorado Politics has filed an open records request with the Attorney General’s Office for the legal costs related to the complaint.