The felony charge against State Sen. Pete Lee involving his casting a vote in March 2020 was dismissed on Oct. 21 by El Paso County District Court Judge Eric Bentley, who noted misleading evidence had been submitted to the grand jury by a district attorney’s investigator.
Lee was charged in August with one count of registering to vote at an address where he doesn’t live, which carries a potential sentence of up to two years in prison and a fine up to $100,000.
But Lee’s attorney, David Kaplan, successfully argued that the grand jury was given erroneous information upon which the indictment was based.
While Lee didn’t respond to the Indy’s request for comment, he was quoted by Colorado Public Radio as saying, “I’m very relieved at the decision, and I’m very impressed with the detailed preparation and analysis of the court.”
At issue was Lee’s residency when he voted in March 2020. As the Indy reported in June 2020, from 2011 to 2019, Lee, a Democrat, represented House District 18, which includes both of his homes — a small house on North Sheridan Avenue in central Colorado Springs occupied by his stepdaughter and a larger home in the Cheyenne Canyon area occupied by him and his wife.
In 2018, he ran for Senate District 11, which covers much of the city and a portion of Ute Pass and included the Sheridan property, but not the Cheyenne Canyon house, which lies within Senate District 12 and is represented by Bob Gardner, a Republican.
According to Colorado Politics’ account of the indictment, Lee voted in the March 2020 presidential primary election using the Sheridan house but his permanent home is in Cheyenne Canyon.
Lee’s attorney argued in a subsequent motion that the case hinged on inaccurate residency information submitted by the Colorado Supreme Court’s Attorney Registration office, showing Lee had changed his voter registration address to Cheyenne Road, Colorado Politics reported.
Kaplan alleged that DA’s investigator David Guest told the grand jury “with great emphasis” that Lee had changed his home address with the attorney registration office in 2019, which Kaplan termed “a material misrepresentation of the facts used to obtain an indictment.”
“The government went to great pains to establish a critical piece of evidence — Mr. Lee’s registration documents as an attorney in the state of Colorado,” the motion said, but disregarded that the attorney office later corrected the record by saying Lee’s registration cited the Sheridan address.
Despite that argument, Republican DA Michael Allen’s office decided in September it would pursue the case.
Though Judge Bentley dismissed the charge, he said there was no wrongdoing by Allen’s office.
Asked about the dismissal, the DA’s Office said only that “a public criminal record does not exist,” a statement that likely stems from a law that states, “Upon an inquiry into a sealed record, a criminal justice agency shall reply that a public criminal record does not exist ….”
Several other state lawmakers have been caught up in residency issues but none of the others have been criminally charged.
‘I’m very relieved at the decision.’
It’s no secret that Lee has led a charge against what he views as unfair criminal justice practices and has campaigned for limiting the use of cash bail and reducing penalties for certain crimes.
Allen, meanwhile, has blamed Democrats for a rise in crime and connects that increase to lenient sentencing and incarceration measures.
Political observers framed the Lee indictment in political terms, alleging Allen went after Lee because he’s a Democrat whose legislative efforts clash with Allen’s.
For example, former City Council President Richard Skorman penned an op-ed that appeared in The Gazette days before the charge was dismissed, calling for Allen to abandon the case.
When the judge dismissed the charge, Skorman told the Indy, “It’s a big relief. He didn’t deserve it. It’s a charge that never should have been filed, a good example of why this law needs to be worked out statewide, and we shouldn’t have one person singled out ever again.”
Meantime, the left-leaning Colorado Ethics Institute filed a complaint with the DA’s Office on Aug. 24 regarding the residency and voting history of State Sen. Dennis Hisey. It alleged that after Hisey’s permanent home in Fountain was drawn out of his district, he claimed to live in a house in Colorado Springs within the district, owned by a family member. Based on weeks of observations, the complaint alleged Hisey occupied the apartment in name only and, “As a matter of his day-to-day life, Hisey is regularly present and appears to reside [at the Fountain home]….”
Asked about the status of that case, DA’s spokesman Howard Black says via email, “Dennis Hisey is still in the investigative stage.”
Hisey is running in SD11 against Democrat Tony Exum, a House member.