Garfield County commissioners reimburse Martin for legal fees
Garfield County Commissioners Mike Samson and Tom Jankovsky defended their fellow commissioner on Tuesday, agreeing to reimburse board Chairman John Martin for legal fees incurred during a criminal investigation that grew out of his 2016 re-election campaign.
“When it’s obvious that there wasn’t any criminal intent, we will protect people that hold offices,” Samson said of what he described as a “frivolous lawsuit” accusing Martin of embezzling county funds.
During the 2016 election, the Democratic campaign of John Acha, who was seeking to oust Martin, accused the 20-year Republican commissioner of “double dipping” in travel expenses while he attended intergovernmental conferences over the previous three years.
A forensic auditor reviewed Martin’s spending at these conferences, and he was ultimately required to repay the county $1,800. In August of last year, after reviewing the case for several months, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown found no probable cause and cleared Martin.
“Voters made their decision, and to file a complaint after that shows malice by the opposition party’s chair,” Jankovsky said of then-county Democratic Party chairman Bob Shivley. “I’m still somewhat shocked by that.”
Jankovsky also argued that additional litigation may ensue if the case is not settled, which would create additional costs for the county.
“It’s going to cost at least double if there is a claim and we could lose,” he argued. “There’s disappointment in the opposition party. It went beyond dirty politics, it went way beyond that and the claim became malicious.”
Jankovsky and Samson both described it as “malice” used to hurt Martin, and ultimately Garfield County taxpayers will have to pay the bill, they said.
Consulting attorney Tom Rice, who has represented municipalities and counties throughout Colorado, argued that it would be poor policy to put a public official at risk of criminal prosecution and then not defend him when he is found innocent.
Martin incurred just over $29,000 in legal fees, Rice said. After holding several executive sessions on the issue, without the participation of Commissioner Martin, the other two commissioners settled to reimburse Martin for $25,000.
“What bothers me most is how this was maliciously motivated,” said Samson. “I was convinced from the start that Mr. Martin had no intent on his part of embezzlement. I feel for him and his family for what he’s had to do.”
Samson and Jankovsky, both Republicans, said they would support Martin if he pursued legal action against the county Democrats or other “third parties.”
The current chairwoman of the Garfield County Democrats, Gretchen Brogdon, declined to comment on the county’s decision to reimburse Martin for the legal costs of fighting the allegations.
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Garfield County is battling similar lawsuits from RMR Industrials in two courts.