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Colorado Senate ethics committee finds probable cause in complaint against Senator Winter

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) The Colorado Senate Ethics Committee voted unanimously  Thursday to advance a complaint made against Senator Faith Winter by the city of Northglenn.

They found probable cause that Winter, a Westminster Democrat, violated a Senate rule during an April Northglenn community meeting where she appeared intoxicated to people who were present.

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The vote means that the committee can consider more evidence, including a hearing if Winter requests one, before making a decision on whether her conduct fell short of a “manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity” of the chamber.

“This is but a step in a broader process of accountability, restoring harm and restoring that integrity and public trust,” Senator Julie Gonzales, the Denver Democrat who chairs the committee, said. “It is not probative and it is not determinative.”

The committee also includes Democratic Senator James Coleman of Denver, Democratic Senator Dylan Roberts of Frisco, Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen of Monument and Republican Senator Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs. On Thursday, they considered evidence including news reports, video and transcripts from the meeting and correspondence between the involved parties.

Winter has one week to request an evidentiary hearing, and the committee will need to hold such a hearing no more than two weeks after the request.

“We would get important context around both that evening, as well as other things that were raised in the evidence and in our discussion today,” Roberts said. “So my vote today for probable cause is not to say that I think Senator Winter did commit an ethical violation, but that I need more information to determine whether she did or not.”

Northglenn City Council filed the complaint against Winter on May 1. It alleges that during an April 3 meeting about a mental health transitional living facility, Winter appeared combative and had “glassy eyes and slurred speech.” Some people smelled alcohol on her breath, according to the complaint. The local police department advised her to find a ride home instead of driving.

The next day, Winter announced that she was seeking medical treatment for alcoholism. She also resigned her position as chair of the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee.

In her response letter to the complaint, Winter wrote that she had a drink before attending the meeting because she expected it to be emotionally charged. Winter sponsored the 2022 bill that was the center of conversation, and opposition, at the meeting.

“Though I regret having a drink before entering the April 3 community meeting, and I would reverse that decision if I could, I can confidently say that I have fulfilled my responsibilities and duties as a Senator, including on April 3, 2024,” she wrote.

One question from Thursday’s meeting was whether Winter was acting in her capacity as a state senator during the April meeting. While email correspondence from the city lists her as an invited panelist, Winter wrote in her response that the Northglenn mayor asked her to “consider attending” the meeting and that she was surprised to be asked to join the panel in front of the crowd.

“Senator Winter attended this meeting at an invitation, and whether she sat at the dais or whether she responded from the audience … I think we have to judge the conduct clearly that she was acting as a senator and that her purpose of being there was related to her representation of those citizens,” Gardner said.

Winter could face a reprimand, censure, or expulsion if the committee decides she violated Senate rules. She and her attorney were present remotely on Thursday, and she told the committee she understood the process.

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