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Judge Refuses to Jail Indicted County Clerk Tina Peters After Out-of-State Trip to Rail About ‘Election Protection’


Mesa County Clerk and then-Republican candidate for secretary of state Tina Peters reacts to early election returns during a primary night watch party at the Wide Open Saloon on June 28, 2022 in Sedalia, Colorado. Peters lost the Republican primary to former Jefferson County Clerk Pam Anderson, who will move on to face Democratic incumbent Jena Griswold. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images.)

An indicted county clerk in Colorado appeared before a judge on Friday to answer accusations that she left the state of Colorado in violation of a bail arrangement to attend a so-called right-wing “election protection” event in Nevada on July 12.

Tina Peters, a candidate for secretary of state who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nod for that office, has “aligned herself with far-right figures who have advanced [Donald] Trump’s lies about widespread election fraud,” according to CNN. The network further said Peters “has emerged as a prominent figure on the far right in Colorado after espousing former President Donald Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.”

Peters’ travel to Nevada, according to District Attorney Dan Rubinstein, was a violation of Peters’ bond in an underlying indictment dating back to an alleged May 2021 voting system security incident. As Law&Crime has previously reported, Peters, 66, stands accused of three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, and one count each of identity theft, official misconduct in the first degree, violation of duty, and failure to comply with the secretary of state.

Rubinstein has alleged that Peters and a deputy engaged in election equipment tampering and official misconduct by allowing an unauthorized third party to make copies of voting machine hard drives before and after a “trusted build” systems upgrade — essentially, a form of software update — in late May 2021. Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley, 66, allegedly made sure that security cameras were turned off in the secure room where the alleged events unfolded.

Peters is accused of obtaining “confidential voting machine logins” and “forensic images of their hard drives” that wound up “being published in a QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel in early August 2021,” CNN said.

During Friday’s hearing, defense attorneys suggested that Peters did not knowingly violate her bond on those underlying charges by traveling to Nevada from Colorado.  Rather, the defense said it failed to notify Peters of a July 11 court order about out-of-state travel.

The issue was whether the judge should toss out an arrest warrant for Peters which he earlier issued because of the travel.

Defense attorney Harvey Steinberg asserted that Peters took a private plane from Colorado to Las Vegas somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 on the evening of July 12.

Later in the hearing, it was revealed that Peters took the plane one day earlier than her attorneys suggested because she was already in Nevada at a notary’s office on the afternoon of the 12, prosecutors pointed out.

Steinberg said he “was not aware” of the July 11 no-travel order until July 13.  He described the failure as a “convergence of a perfect storm” because he was involved in other matters.

“I’m not computer — if you will — literate,” Steinberg said; he said his personal assistant who handles computer matters for him and his other staff were out of town.

Once he found out about the order, he said he “told [Peters] she needed to get back immediately, and she was back immediately.”

“How is it that your entire staff and you were indisposed so you could not get this order?” the judge asked.

“A mistake was made here,” Steinberg said.  “I’ll take the heat.”

The judge asked if the defense had “zero knowledge whatsoever from any source” of the order that Peters was not supposed to be out of the state without explicit permission from the court.

The defense attorney affirmed he had no knowledge of the order until he was told about it on the 13th.

The judge then asked if another member of the defense team saw the order; the judge noted that his computer system indicated that someone else saw on Peters’ legal team saw it at 1:19 p.m. on July 11 — just “hours” after it was issued.

Steinberg agreed “without question” that the order was important.

The judge said the issue was “remarkable” and that it was “critical” that he understand exactly why the failures occurred.

“I think the evidence is clear that she didn’t know” about the order, Steinberg asserted while he suggested that his client did not deliberately or intentionally thumb her nose at the July 11 order.

Steinberg said Peters told her bail bondsman on the 12th that she was planning to go to Nevada to speak about her perceived woes about the election.

“In her mind, that obviously is important, because she’s doing what she thinks she’s supposed to do,” Steinberg asserted.  In other words, Peters was seeking the blessing of the bail bondsman before leaving — a step she thought was necessary, appropriate, and all that was needed from, the attorney argued.  And, he said, she was by no means making the trip a secret.  Indeed, Peters was “at a conference surrounded by law enforcement” — a “sheriff’s convention where she spoke.”

“It was done in open,” Steinberg said, “and she livestreamed” her appearance.

“She was allegedly at some conference . . . with this data behind her,” the judge noted.

The data is directly connected to the underlying indictment; that’s why the judge called the argument less than persuasive.

Steinberg then asserted that Peters believes she’s been “mistreated” throughout the process because she’s been subjected to a $25,000 bond in her 60s.

“She thinks the system is being unfair,” Steinberg asserted; he said his client believed the judge was looking for an excuse to lock her up.

“Her paranoia, justified or not,” is affecting “how she’s conducting herself,” Steinberg said of Peters. “She came back as quick as she did” and was “in public at all times” and “thought that she could go.”

“A mistake was made, and I don’t think she should suffer for it,” the defense attorney added.

Prosecutors said they would not object to letting Peters off the hook if the court found, in essence, that Peters did not purposefully violate the order and that her attorneys were the ones who screwed it up.

The discussion then returned to the specific dates and times of Peters’ travel and when, precisely, she departed Colorado; it was revealed that Peters cleared her plans through her attorneys to leave on the 12th but actually left on the 11th.

“Do you want to explain that to me or not, Mr. Steinberg?” the judge asked.

“She couldn’t control the plane,” the defense attorney counted.  “They were originally going to go Tuesday morning, and then they plane said, ‘no, you have to be there at 7:40 p.m.,’ and that’s when she took off on Monday.”

The state refused to rebut the matter further; the defense promised that the issue would never come up again.

Turning toward the underlying accusations, the state posited that the chance of a successful conviction had increased because Peters “repeatedly” confessed to criminal conduct in her speeches.

The state noted that Peters now admittedly had access to money and a private jet — classic signs that someone may be a flight risk from criminal prosecution.

The judge then noted that he banned Peters from traveling at 11:41 a.m. on July 11, that the order was opened by one member of Peters’ legal team at 1:19 p.m., and that some of her attorneys still had not opened the order.  By 7:40 p.m., Peters had boarded a flight for Nevada.

Earlier in the proceeding, Steinberg asserted that all communication with Peters by her legal team went through him.

“This is a violation of the bond: period,” the judge said while directing a “yes?” question to Peters.  “It cannot be disputed:  you did not have permission to go to Las Vegas.”

The judge noted the two-pronged rationale for the lack of permission:  first, the judge was given no notice of Peters’ desire to travel, and second, Peters’ attorneys did not notify her of the judge’s ban on her leaving the state.

“I don’t have her other counsel here to question them about these things,” the judge said, again referencing that only some of her legal team had opened the order not to leave.

“They didn’t tell her about my order, and they didn’t file the notice,” the judge reasserted.

The judge then noted that Peters “got on that plane Monday” knowing full well it was a flight that the court had not approved.

“These aren’t little things,” the judge said as to the gravity of the situation.

The judge then deflated proffers from the defense that Peters was being extra careful about offending the court.

“Apparently not,” the judge said.

The judge also said he expects attorneys to transmit orders to clients within an hour or two — not several days.

“An order such as this certainly I wouldn’t expect to sit 48 hours,” the judge said.  “How not one, but three attorneys could neglect to send this important order to their client is incredible.”

The judge said Peters simply assumed she could leave and didn’t even tell her attorneys precisely when she was leaving.

However, since the state said it would “defer to the court” on the appropriate next step, the judge backed down from jailing Peters.

Still, the judge expressed his displeasure with the situation in no uncertain terms.  The judge said that he generally gives individuals who are struggling with housing or other personal matters at least one chance at forgiveness if a bond violation occurs.  Here, however, Peters is a more sophisticated client with the “resources to disappear.”

“This will not happen again,” the judge ordered.

Another court date was established for Aug. 5 at 4:30 p.m. Mountain time; the judge ultimately tossed the arrest warrant but demanded that Peters notify the court of any future out-of-state travel.  If Peters leaves even one minute before her requested travel time, she will be in trouble with the law, the judge pointed out.

Steinberg piped up near the conclusion of the proceeding.  In a subtly heated tone, he said he took offense to the judge’s discussion of his own professional shortcomings — even though he expressed previously that the buck should stop with him due to his failure to quickly notify Peters of the July 11 order.  The judge at least twice cautioned the defense attorney not to point at the judge while disputing the characterizations; Steinberg continued to talk even as the judge attempted to speak — something that is unfathomable for most attorneys in front of most judges.

The judge’s only response to the issues with client communication after Steinberg’s simmering tirade was this:  “Don’t do it again.”

Peters, who is currently the Mesa County clerk, reportedly traveled to Nevada and was indeed quite vocal about it; she posted a photo to social media with a caption that indicated she was in Las Vegas “[s]trategizing next steps for #election protection.” That event, according to CNN, was spearheaded by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

Peters pleaded not guilty; her bond agreement reportedly banned her from leaving the Centennial State.

Still, according to prosecutors, she did; Colorado District Judge Matthew Barrett signed out a warrant for Peters’ arrest this week.

Peters has reportedly told Colorado Public Radio that the indictment she faces is “laughable.” She has also reportedly called the prosecution politically motivated.

“If I have to be controversial to get the truth out, I’m not afraid of that,” Peters reportedly said. “And that would make me dangerous, ’cause I’m not afraid.”

Peters reportedly is seeking election to become secretary of state because doing so would afford her more control over Colorado’s voting systems.

“Peters is among a slate of Republican 2020 election deniers who lost their primary bids in Colorado last month,” The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet, noted after the proceeding.

[Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images.]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.