Don't listen to what I say. Watch what I do," Joe Rogers said last November when he announced his candidacy for the retiring Pat Schroeder's congressional seat.
But if you had been watching Rogers in 1991, when he wasn't a Republican candidate but merely a member of the Denver law firm Davis Graham & Stubbs, you would have seen him served with a court summons--at the law firm--because he hadn't paid an installment on his student loan for at least a year and a half.
You could have observed him eventually settling with the Colorado Student Loan Program (CSLP), but not until he tied up Arapahoe County Court and the state attorney general for sixteen months with motions, objections to the magistrate hearing the case and a bottomless bag of other legal arguments.
Or you may have been witness in 1991 and 1992 to two contempt citations issued against Rogers when he was conservator of his grandmother's estate in Denver Probate Court. You may have watched him be five months late in filing the required financial inventory for the estate and eight months late in filing the annual interim accounting for the same property. Both delays caused the court clerk to issue a letter reminding Rogers of his obligations and responsibilities as a conservator.
Responsibility for these entanglements is one thing Rogers, an ex-staffer for GOP senator Hank Brown, isn't into accepting. Regarding the student loan, Rogers argues that the default proceeding was unwarranted and that it was actually the lender's fault; he says he told the bank he was going to be away for six months on a lend-a-lawyer program in La Junta but that it didn't forward his bills. As for his grandmother's estate, Rogers says that one of the contempt citations was an error of the court and that he knew the other one was coming, but "my grandmother and my family was my first priority and not me filing a document with the court."
As expected, Rogers's opponents say they're a bit troubled.
"I'm always concerned when someone doesn't meet their legal obligations," says state representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat who is also running for the First District seat. "I moved several times and managed to pay off my school loans. Even with car payments, if you don't get the booklet in the mail, you still know you have an obligation to pay."
Former Denver city councilman Tim Sandos, who's also expected to seek the Democratic nomination for the seat, cautiously criticizes Rogers for dragging the student-loan problem through protracted court proceedings. "It seems to me," Sandos says, "that if there was just some confusion, you could talk about it, work it out."
Mark Persons, manager of the account-resolution office of the state's student loan program, echoes Sandos's sentiment. "Listen," he says, "we have lots of misunderstandings here, and we work them out without going to court. We wouldn't have taken legal action on any student loan unless we felt that was our last alternative." Persons notes that if the court had felt CSLP had acted improperly in filing the case, it would have had the case dismissed--which it didn't.
Persons says he can't comment specifically about Rogers's case because of federal confidentiality laws, but he does say that based on the general workings of the law and his office, an excuse about a six-month move doesn't hold water. "When a student graduates, he automatically has a six-month grace period to begin paying back the loan," Persons explains, "and then there's another six months where the student has time to work out any difficulties or any changes in the payment plan with the commercial lender. And only then is the case transferred to us, and we're not allowed to take any action until another 225 days has gone by, and federal law requires final review after 545 days." Persons says the state typically waits until day 400--which does not include the first year--before taking legal action.
"There's just so much we can do, lots of options, that come before legal action," Persons explains. "We have several mothers on [welfare] who are resolving their loans without legal action."
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But Rogers, who estimates that he was making around $50,000 a year as a second-year attorney at Davis Graham & Stubbs, says the state was overly aggressive. "They wouldn't have settled the case like they did," he says, "if they didn't think I had a good case."
Rogers, when asked about Persons's explanation of the time frame for legal action, says simply, "That's not accurate." After pausing, he adds, "Look, I had eight student loans--eight. I thought they'd all been bundled into one payment. I was paying them. I didn't get notice about the others." He says he doesn't remember why, at one point, he demanded that a different magistrate hear the case. "It was a long time ago," he says.
And questions about his grandmother's estate also irk the usually smooth negotiator. "One of those contempt citations was in error--I talked to the probate clerk today," he says. "It was their mistake, not mine." But the other one was indeed valid, he admits, although he says, "It's no big deal. I knew it was coming."
Joanne Garcia, clerk of Denver Probate Court, confirms that one of the contempt citations, for failure to pay fees, was in error because Rogers had paid the fees. However, he was cited for contempt for being late in one of his filings, and he was chided by the court for his tardiness in the other. But Garcia says, "It's not uncommon for conservators to be less than timely in their duties...even if they are lawyers.