DENVER — Two freshmen Colorado Democratic lawmakers — Rep. Elisabeth Epps and Rep. Robert Marshall — filed a lawsuit against the Colorado House of Representatives, claiming "pervasive violations" of the Colorado open meetings law.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Denver District Court, accuses both parties of violating the law by holding secret meetings throughout the 2023 session to discuss pending legislation without notifying the public.
The open meetings law generally requires any state or local governmental body to discuss public business or to take formal action in meetings that are open to the public.
"These meetings were never publicly noticed. Defendants directed legislative aides to omit or disguise these mandatory meetings from Representatives’ calendars. Defendants did not promptly record meeting minutes and did not make minutes available to the public,” the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also claims legislators use an app called Signal, which allows them to communicate without any record of their messages.
“They're communicating on these apps. We don't have any way of knowing, you know, who's communicating about what, because not only can the public not see that in real-time, they can't even file an Open Records Act request for it, because the records will no longer exist, or they're encrypted," said Jeff Roberts, the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. “The question is that, is technology overtaking these laws, some of which were enacted 50 years ago, and have only been updated incrementally? And the answer to that is yes, in a lot of ways.”
Denver7 spoke with Rep. Marshall about the lawsuit, who said it details a few of many examples of open meetings law violations. He said both he and Rep. Epps had been noticing the same issues, independently of one another, before realizing the two were seeing the same alleged problems. Both of them were trying to take care of it quietly initially, Marshall said.
He said the open meetings law violations have been happening for years, and said it is not a partisan issue, but an institutional one.
Marshall said this is not an attack on his fellow legislators. Instead, he described the lawsuit as a "loving intervention."
On her Twitter account, Rep. Epps posted a statement regarding the lawsuit.
📣Attached (+ threaded by replies) is our statement on Epps & Marshall v. House of Representatives, et al.— Elisabeth Epps (@RepEpps) July 10, 2023
July 10, 2023 | Denver, CO
Statement from Colorado State Representatives Elisabeth Epps and Bob Marshall Re: Colorado Open Meetings Law Violations/Sunshine Law Lawsuit. + pic.twitter.com/WLOZHriBaz
Roger D. Hudson, deputy chief of staff for the Colorado House Minority Caucus, said Monday the lawsuit "is what Coloradans hate about politics at the Capitol."
"The infighting and expense are only a distraction to the priorities that they care about; improved schools, safer communities, more jobs at higher wages, and better roads throughout our state. Republicans continue to believe that the people of Colorado deserve access to their government through comprehensive open meetings and open records laws — we welcome any conversation that will update our statutes to keep up with rapidly evolving technology,” Hudson said.
The suit was filed against Democratic House Speaker Julie McCluskie and Majority Leader Monica Duran, in addition to Minority Leader Mike Lynch, the top GOP lawmaker in the House. Also listed as defendants are the Democratic and Republican caucuses and the House itself.
In a statement late Monday afternoon, McCluskie and Duran said they stand by their caucus.
"House Democratic leadership is committed to open and transparent government and ensuring a fair and public process for policymaking. We are still reviewing the complaint in full, and we stand by our caucus - dedicated public servants who work tirelessly on behalf of their constituents,” the statement read.
The lawsuit was filed Friday, July 7, but no hearing date has been set yet.