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State senators go to court to challenge recall petitions

DENVER – Two Colorado Democratic state senators facing recalls because of their support for new gun restrictions argued Wednesday to stop the proceedings, telling a judge the petitions against them are invalid, and no election should be set until judicial review is complete.

State Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo argue the recall petitions against them were improperly worded and didn’t ask for an election to appoint a successor.

Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt heard arguments Wednesday and is expected to rule this afternoon whether to grant a preliminary injunction.

Supporters of the recall maintain their petitions are valid. The Secretary of State’s office has agreed, and is seeking a court order to force Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to set an election date. Hyatt also is expected to rule on that petition today.

Both lawmakers are being targeted because of their support for legislation that limits most ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and an expansion of background checks to include online and private firearm sales. Most Colorado sheriffs are also suing to overturn the laws, which took effect July 1.

Proponents of the recall argue the lawmakers violated the Second Amendment.

Attorney Mark Grueskin, who is representing Morse and Giron, has argued that petition signers didn’t know exactly what they were signing. The petitions asked whether the lawmakers should be recalled but didn’t ask whether an election should be held to appoint a successor, which the state constitution requires.

“Nobody ever picked it up,” he said of the recall backers. “What they did is they dusted off something in a file.”

Attorney Richard Westfall, who is representing recall organizers, said their petition is valid because they were operating under the guidance of the Colorado Secretary of State using template language for recalls that has been around since 2005.

No Colorado state lawmaker has ever faced a recall. The elections could come between early August and early September, unless a judge steps in and grants an injunction.

Grueskin contends that the omission in the recall petitions is crucial. He cites a 2002 appellate ruling that sides with his argument. In that case, recall petition signatures for two Central City aldermen and the mayor were filed, but they didn’t include language demanding an election

Matthew Grove, who is representing the Secretary of State’s office on behalf of the Colorado attorney general, said the court must lean in favor of “the fundamental right of the people to exercise a recall.”

Meanwhile, Hickenlooper said Tuesday his office is trying to coordinate with the clerks in Morse and Giron’s district to find one election date for both.

“I don’t think it serves anybody to have two separate dates for an election in communities where they have overlapping television and radio,” he said. The governor said he wants to find a date that maximizes voter turnout and gives candidates “the maximum amount of time to get their message out.”

An attorney for Hickenlooper told the judge the governor wants the judicial process to conclude before he has to set a date.

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