Supporters back senator at first court appearance
State Sen. Steve King smiled and laughed at times in conversation inside a Mesa County courtroom while his lawyer waived advisement of criminal charges Monday morning.
“I know Mr. King,” District Judge Valerie Robison told attorneys.
Robison said she worked with King when she was employed with the Mesa County Attorney’s Office handling dependency and neglect cases, and later, in the capacity of an elected official. The judge said their children once played together. King’s case was assigned to Robison after District Judge Thomas Deister ruled he had a conflict of interest.
“I don’t know if there’s a conflict,” Robison said. “I haven’t found there is.”
Assistant 18th Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, the special prosecutor in the case, and King’s Denver attorney, David Kaplan, said they wouldn’t seek Robison’s removal based on what they heard Monday.
King, 56, declined comment before and after Monday’s brief hearing. Hurlbert continued to acknowledge an ongoing investigation of King, but has not specified the subject of that probe. King’s case is scheduled to return Oct. 23, with Kaplan saying he needed the time to receive discovery.
Kaplan, former head of the Colorado Public Defender system, told the judge Grand Junction attorney Stephen Laiche may be asked to represent King in Kaplan’s absence during some upcoming hearings.
Two people who attended Monday’s hearing voiced support for King, including his father-in-law, Dennis Wiltgren of Grand Junction. Wiltgren said King is a victim of dirty politics.
“People make mistakes,” Wiltgren said. “I think some of the stuff that’s happened is petty, but now it’s blown way out of proportion.”
He continued: “This has cost him a lot ... his life. It’s all a political deal coming down, that’s all I can tell you.”
King was issued a summons July 30 for felony counts of embezzlement of public property, forgery and theft. He also faces misdemeanor counts of forgery and official misconduct.
A criminal complaint alleges crimes were committed between July 1, 2013, and Dec. 19, 2013, while the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and CMU are listed as victims in the case. In the theft count, charging documents accuse King of defrauding the Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Mesa University of at least $2,000 but less than $5,000. The forgery counts apply specifically to timecards he submitted to the Sheriff’s Office.
King, who trounced John Pennington in the June 24 primary election for the GOP nod for sheriff, withdrew from the race July 16.
King was fired June 6 by former Sheriff Stan Hilkey after an internal affairs investigation concluded he’d falsified time cards, aside from five code of conduct violations. King called the internal affairs report “a lot of strong language on a thick report for what amounted to expressing my frustration over a $90 mistake.”
Documents obtained by The Daily Sentinel through the Colorado Open Records Act show King made some requests for mileage and hotel reimbursements from the state on the same days he was working at CMU as its acting coordinator of campus safety and training. The Sentinel compared King’s CMU time cards going back two years with his reimbursement reports with the Colorado General Assembly and a political action committee campaign account that King controlled.
King was an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office before he was elected to the Legislature in 2006. He continued to work there part-time and was elected to the senate in 2010.
MaryLou Graham, a second supporter of King’s who attended Monday’s hearing inside a mostly vacant courtroom, said she worked on King’s 2006 campaign for the Colorado House.
“I voted for him, I believe in him, I know he’s the best man for the job,” Graham said, adding she believes her vote for sheriff was “trashed.”
“That’s hard for a citizen to take,” she said. “I lost a lot of respect for the administration of the Sheriff’s Office.”