A contested seat on the Adams 12 Five Star school board should be declared vacant, the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled.
Since the candidate who won the most votes is ineligible to serve, it's as if no one won the election, the high court decided. The school board will now be tasked with declaring a vacancy and appointing someone to fill it.
The Supreme Court's ruling brings to an end a legal drama that began shortly after Amy Speers won the November 2013 election to represent District 4 on the board. But she couldn't take office: About a week before Election Day, local election officials discovered that Speers no longer lived in District 4 due to recent redistricting, a fact that Speers didn't know prior to becoming a candidate. She refused to drop out of the race, however, and instead encouraged people to vote for her to send a message that the voters supported progressive candidates such as herself. Speers ended up earning two-thirds of the vote. Her challenger, candidate Rico Figueroa, earned one-third.
Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler attempted to stop Speers's votes from being counted by issuing an emergency rule on Election Day that declared ballots cast for unqualified candidates invalid. But a Denver District Court judge found Gessler's rule to be unlawful. The final vote tally was 24,169 votes for Speers and 14,081 votes for Figueroa.
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Gessler, Figueroa and his supporters contested the election, and it fell to Broomfield District Court Judge Chris Melonakis to sort out who won. In July 2014, Melonakis ruled that the District 4 seat should be declared vacant. "Figueroa was defeated by a nearly two-to-one margin," the judge wrote. "The voters in his district expressed a clear intent not to elect him."
Figueroa appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which issued its decision today. His argument that he won the election because he earned the most votes of any eligible candidate "has no support in the election code or case law," the justices wrote, especially since Speers's candidacy wasn't challenged in court until after the election.
"No court declared Speers legally ineligible prior to the election, and she received the highest number of votes in the election, so she was legally elected," they wrote.
"Our determination that Speers was 'legally elected' because she received the most legally cast votes precludes Figueroa from having been legally elected to the same position."
Given that, the justices ruled, "we must set aside the election and declare a vacancy."
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The Adams 12 school board is scheduled to declare a vacancy at its March 4 meeting, says district spokesman Joe Ferdani. State law says the vacancy must be filled within sixty days.
We've reached out to Figueroa's attorney and current Secretary of State Wayne Williams. We'll update this post if and when we hear back. In the meantime, read the Supreme Court's ruling below.
Update, March 3: Figueroa's attorney, Mario Nicolais, says he's disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision. But legally, he says there's nothing more he can do; the high court's ruling is the final word.