Closing the Door on Judicial Review

Colorado Supreme Court says judges can’t look at ‘frivolous’ dismissals from the state’s Independent Ethics Commission

By Hannah Garcia


split Colorado Supreme Court exercised a somewhat rarely used power to end a dispute between a watchdog group and the state’s Independent Ethics Commission in an April 25 opinion.

One of the main questions the case posits deals with the definition of a “final action.” In essence, once the IEC dismisses a case as frivolous, there is no avenue for appeal after the state’s highest court settled the matter through the “extraordinary remedy” of Colorado Appellate Rule 21. Those petitioners for review can bypass the Colorado Court of Appeals and typically have no oral argument.

The high court typically agrees to review Rule 21 cases based on a two-prong test: cases that present novel questions of law and have implications with “significant public importance.” Colorado Ethics Watch v. Independent Ethics Watch satisfies both of those requisites, according to the 4-3 majority opinion penned by Chief Justice Nancy Rice.

“We have never considered whether IEC’s determinations of frivolousness are reviewable,” Rice wrote. “Furthermore, this case presents an important question, as its resolution implicates IEC’s operations going forward.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the May 2, 2016 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.