Ruling writes off plagiarism scandal

Articles about water policy and questions about attribution and the use of a research assistant derailed Scott McInnis’ campaign for governor last summer.



Questions still circulate about the plagiarism scandal involving one-time gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis, even though the Colorado Supreme Court office that investigates attorney misconduct has declined to pursue a case against him.

Chiefly, if McInnis, a former 3rd District Republican congressman, didn’t know that the research assistant he hired failed to attribute work he lifted from another source, and if the group that paid McInnis $300,000 to write the series of water articles knew he had hired that assistant, why didn’t that information come out before last year’s primary election?

“Why didn’t he save us all the trial and tribulation and money by getting these things out from the beginning,” asked former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, who entered the governor’s race as a third-party candidate last year after the scandal tanked McInnis’ campaign, and gave the GOP nomination to upstart Dan Maes.

“I know Scotty is still chaffed about my entry into it, or at least telling him to get out, but the fact of the matter is, up until that time, I did everything the (McInnis) campaign asked me to do,” Tancredo told The Daily Sentinel. “But I’m madder at him. I’m more ticked off at him now than I was before simply because, if he could have avoided all this, for me, for him, for the party, for the state, and didn’t, what the hell is that all about? So I don’t know what to say.”

Late last week, the high court’s Attorney Regulation Counsel determined that there was no “clear and convincing” evidence that McInnis violated rules of attorney conduct when he submitted 24 articles on water to the Hasan Family Foundation, a Pueblo-based group that wanted to highlight water issues in the state.

Complaint investigated

The counsel was responding to a complaint filed against him by Luis Toro, director of left-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch, which questioned whether McInnis failed to properly supervise a non-lawyer assistant in violation of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

But in two letters to Toro and to McInnis’ Denver attorneys, Gary Blum and Victoria Lovato, Regulation Counsel John Gleason said there was more than enough documentation and sworn testimony from key witnesses to persuade him that no violation occurred.

Blum said that determination is enough to exonerate the congressman.

“In this case, they did a very, very thorough job,” Blum said. “The details really are what won the case for us. This is not some kind of hocus-pocus thing where there was a snafu. People knew exactly what was going on, and their memories were not borne out by hard evidence.”

McInnis did not return numerous telephone calls for comment.

Blum said attorney-client privilege doesn’t allow him to discuss those details, but in his first response about the allegations to Gleason’s office, Blum wrote on Sept. 3 that while McInnis took full responsibility for the articles and what was in them, he didn’t knowingly violate any rules.

Email to researcher

Blum also said that McInnis’ relationship with the foundation and the researcher, Glenwood Springs water expert Rollie Fischer, was a business deal, not an attorney-client relationship.

“Mr. McInnis believed that Mr. Fischer was capable of creating these articles without referring to outside sources, so he had no reason to think that Mr. Fischer would use, and not attribute, the works of others,” Blum wrote. “There is no evidence that Mr. McInnis engaged in any type of deceitful conduct, nor is there any evidence that he knowingly or intentionally submitted writings that were not property attributed.”

The response also included an undated email from McInnis to Fischer that appeared to be written before the first article was written. In it, McInnis mentions the foundation and mentions the need to not “lift sentences and use them in our material.”

Fischer, who declined to discuss the matter when contacted by the Sentinel, had been hired by McInnis in 2005 to help him write the articles. Some of them, however, included whole paragraphs that had been written 20 years earlier by now Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, one of the state’s most well-known experts in water law.

Fischer, a former head of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told McInnis’ campaign staff soon after the plagiarism story broke in July that he believed the material was in the public domain and, therefore, acceptable to reprint, according to Blum’s response.

Gleason’s letter also notes that McInnis did notify Seeme Hasan, chairwoman of the foundation, that he had hired Fischer, but “she had simply forgot about that particular communication.”

Hasan couldn’t be reached for comment, but she told a Denver radio station Monday that communication was on a fax cover sheet, but provided few details about exactly what Fischer had been hired to do.

“I did not know what assisting him meant, and he never explained that to me,” Hasan told Dan Caplis, a talk show host on KHOW-Radio.

— Gary Harmon contributed to this story.


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