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December 10, 2007 07:02 PM UTC

Carlisle Conflict of Interest and Senate Bid

  • by: Colorado Pols

Democrat Cindy Carlisle, a CU Regent now running for state senate in Boulder, will likely have trouble in her race because of a very visible conflict of interest. From The Denver Post:

She’s on the university’s board of regents.

He’s a lawyer suing the school in the nastiest, highest-profile claim it has ever faced.

They are married.

He just won a $2.5 million settlement last week. His fees, whatever they are, will cost the school that she has been elected to oversee, but they will also enrich her household.

Perhaps it’s just one of those things that can happen to a power couple.

Boulder attorney Baine Kerr and his wife, Cindy Carlisle, told me they never thought this conflict of interest would loom as large or go on for as long as it did. But they also say they both took steps to disclose and manage it properly…

…”Sounds to me like they did everything right,” said John Gleason, regulation counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court. “High-profile lawyers will sometimes have a spouse or someone also holding a responsible position.”

The rule is disclosure, Gleason said. Disclose your deal, recuse yourself when necessary and move on.

Not so fast, said Kevin O’Brien, an ethics and legal studies professor at the University of Denver.

People in positions of trust need to do more than just manage conflicts. They need to avoid them entirely if possible.

“Not only do you have to avoid conflicts, but also the appearance of a conflict,” he said. “There may be nothing illegal here, or even something that violates codes of ethics, but people are going to still think it’s a problem.”

The ethical high road would have been for either Kerr to refer Simpson to another attorney or for Carlisle to step down as regent, O’Brien said.

Despite hiring a personal ethics counselor, this never occurred to Carlisle.

“I never thought I should resign,” she told me. “I was elected, and I did not hear from my constituents that this was something I needed to take into consideration.”

You could look at this both ways, of course, but we tend to agree with O’Brien in this case. Carlisle may have worked hard to avoid any official conflict of interest, but either her husband should not have taken the case or she should have resigned. Claiming that her constituents didn’t say it was a problem is a reach, because how many people even know what a CU Regent does, let alone know enough to understand this conflict.

The question now is not whether the conflict will hurt Carlisle’s bid for the state senate – but how much it will hurt.


17 thoughts on “Carlisle Conflict of Interest and Senate Bid

    1. If she was not involved in the settlement talks, I don’t see where the conflict of interest comes in to play.  From a legal point of view, Kerr appears to have won a decent settlement for his client; if the lawyers on the CU side were not influenced by Cindy’s relationship, then there is no actual influence…

      It is permissible in the legal field to continue representation if all conflicts of interest are known, disclosed, and do not come in to play during a trial or negotiation.  Whether the public knows this and will accept it, or whether this is even an issue by February (nevermind August or November) remains to be seen.

        1. This isn’t an issue if all sides agree, disclose, and recuse as necessary.  If you RTFA, it appears that was the case here – Carlisle was never involved in discussions about the case nor was she allowed to see any of the documents about it.  Hank Brown approved the settlement, not the Regents.

          This is the kind of separation that is acceptable – as the regulation counsel for the CO Supreme Court is quoted.

          While Cindy may not be the “right” candidate for the seat, this is – or should be – a non-starter of an issue.

    1. Carlisle’s real problem is that she ran knowing her husband was on the verge of filing the suit. During the campaign the events leading up to the suit were a subject of much discussion. Carlisle spoke passionately on behalf of making the athletic department accountable.

      Carlisle never let on that she might have a problem representing the point of view she advocated. After winning the election and the filing of the suit, she had to withdraw from all issues involving the athletic department. Thus, her constituents – the women and the general public – were denied representation on an important issue.

      There is a strong feeling among some that the issues were never adequately addressed by CU. Now, Carlisle says her primary concern in running for the senate is to strengthen the university.  

    1. What Rollie has done for this party, his committement, good sense, intelligence, and can-do attitude makes him far and away the best choice for the legislature.

        1. She voted to support the faculty privilege & tenure committee, not to retain Churchill. She has explained that several times.

          And on the issue of the lawsuits and the football controversy, she recused herself whenever it was discussed by the regents in open session (such as when they talked about the recommendations of the blue ribbon commission).

          1. If she voted to support the faculty privilege and tenure committee, which recomended retaining Churchill, what is the difference ?

            Sounds like the same damn thing to me.  I could be wrong though.

    1. Embracing the new technology.  Besides, according to Dick Cheney, eBay is where all of those people not showing up on the unemployment lists are actually making their fortunes, so it’s got to be a good place to solicit campaign.

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