Ethics board rejects complaints against Cobos, Escobar
by David Crowder
Posted on July 29, 2009
The El Paso County Board of Ethics today tossed out two pending complaints today, one that city Rep. Emma Acosta filed against County Judge Anthony Cobos and a second that Cobos' lawyers lodged against county Commissioner Veronica Escobar last month.
The board dismissed Acosta’s April 29 complaint after discussing it behind closed doors for an hour and finding that, by a unanimous vote, that it was “without factual basis” with regard to Cobos, and "frivolous" with regard to the county and the county’s Human Resources Department. [Correction: This paragraph and the headline on this story were changed on Sept. 2 to correct the erroneous statement that the ethics board dismissed the complaint against Cobos on grounds that it was frivolous.]
Acosta alleged that Cobos violated the code of ethics by purposefully interfering in her re-election campaign in providing her opponent, Jose Alexandro Lozano, with copies of job applications she initiated in 2007.
Those applications, filled out using the county’s automated on-line job application process, were dated Dec. 4, 2007, suggesting that Acosta had not lived in District 3 long enough to take office after winning a special election in spring 2009.
It later came to light that the county’s internet application system had automatically filled in an old address for Acosta, one that was not in District 3.
But Lozano the applications as evidence to support his contention that Acosta should not have been allowed to take over the office that he himself had surrendered to run for county commissioner last year.
For that reason, Lozano said in campaigning to win back that seat this year, voters should elect him as a legitimate candidate instead of her.
Acosta lodged the complaint two weeks before defeating Lozano in May for a full, four-year term on City Council.
Explaining the decision, ethics board member Dan Clair said the county judge can release any public document, including a job application, as long as it is legally available to the public.
“Cobos is the custodian of county records, and once (Lozano) asked for it, he had the right to release it,” Clair said.
Acosta had contended that Cobos, who is friends with Lozano, obtained a copy of one of her job applications and gave it to Lozano before he had formally requested it in order to help Lozano discredit Acosta and win election.
The second ethics complaint stemmed from a lawsuit that Cobos filed to stop the ethics board from hearing Acosta’s complaint, a suit that was dismissed by a visiting judge who found that Cobos and his lawyers sued the wrong party: the ethics board instead of the county.
After that suit was dismissed, Escobar asked the county attorney’s office if Cobos could be required to repay the county for more than $8,000 in legal expenses resulting from the case.
The county attorney’s office told Escobar in an email that the county could not recover those costs, to which she replied “bummer” and asked that office to find out how much the case had cost the county.
Caballero and Leeds filed their ethics complaint contending that Escobar’s requests were politically motivated.
The ethics board rejected their argument on grounds that Escobar’s actions did not constitute “political activity” as defined in the ethics code and that the complaint was otherwise “frivolous and without factual basis.”
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To reach David Crowder, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 351-0605, ext. 30, or 630-6622.
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