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Who Handles Ethics Complaints Against Denver's DA? After Two Years, an Answer!

Who oversees ethics complaints lodged against the Denver District Attorney?

It's a question that most people didn't realize was problematic until a Boulder man named Jerry Greene filed a complaint about former DA Mitch Morrissey in fall 2015.

As we noted in our October 26, 2015, article, "Denver D.A. Lacks Oversight by Both City and State Ethics Boards," Greene was bounced back and forth between the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission and the Denver Board of Ethics because neither body considered the DA to be under its jurisdiction.

The confusion stemmed from the fact that Denver's DA receives money from both Denver County and the State of Colorado, but is not technically a county employee because the DA is beholden to serve a district, which encompasses multiple counties. Nor is the DA a state employee in a traditional sense, since his or her focus is not on Colorado as a whole, but on the district served.

After our original article came out, the directors at both the state and county ethics boards told Westword that they were reviewing the situation and hoped to figure out a solution.

But this September, we received an email from Greene; the situation hadn't been resolved, he wrote.

This time around, Greene lodged a complaint against Morrissey's successor, Beth McCann.

There's some skepticism about whether either of Greene's complaints – in 2015 and in 2017 – even referenced a true breach of ethics by the DA, but the underlying jurisdictional question remained.

Well, we finally have a solution!

McCann wrote the Denver Board of Ethics saying she'd work with it whenever an ethics complaint is lodged against her:

“Rather than seek a judicial resolution of the (jurisdictional) issue, I choose to embrace the code’s ethical standards. I therefore agree that, during my term as Denver District Attorney, my entire office (including me, my deputies and my classified staff) will be governed by the Denver Code of Ethics and will be subject to the Denver Board of Ethics.”

Michael Henry, the executive director of the Denver Board of Ethics, says that he accepts McCann's decision, and will oversee any ethics complaints involving her office through the end of her term.

What happens after her term? Who knows. Let's hope it doesn't take another two years to figure out.
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker