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Mesa County judge gives Tina Peters a second chance, quashes warrant following Las Vegas travel bond violation

When she took a private jet to a law enforcement conference in Las Vegas earlier this week, Tina Peters said she was unaware of a court order barring her from traveling out of state.

(CN) — A Colorado judge had harsh words for Tina Peters and her legal team after she violated the court’s travel ban this week, but ultimately quashed a warrant for her arrest on Friday.

“This is how our system works, I issue orders and they’re followed, and what happened here is unfathomable,” said 21st District Judge Matthew Barrett at the Mesa County District Court in Grand Junction.

As the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder in southwest Colorado, Peters first came under scrutiny in 2021 after a security breach in her office led to the exposure of sensitive passwords and election processes. She is accused of allowing an unauthorized person to participate in what should have been a secure process for installing an update to the electronic voting system. Court documents indicate Peters took videos and photos, which included passwords and were leaked online.

Following a grand jury investigation, prosecutors charged Peters with three felony counts of attempting to influence a public servant, four felony counts related to impersonation and identity theft and a misdemeanor count each of official misconduct, violating her duties and failing to comply with the secretary of state’s requirements.

The court initially granted Peters leave to travel while she campaigned to be the Republican nominee for secretary of state. Peters lost the primary election last month by more than 15 points to Pam Anderson, who will face off against incumbent Democrat Jena Griswold in November.

District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein therefore filed a motion on Monday asking the court to restrict Peters' travel. Barrett issued a temporary ban on Peters’ travel pending her defense’s response.

Peters claimed she hadn’t received notice of the order when she took a private jet to Las Vegas to attend the Constitutional Sheriff’s and Peace Officer’s Association Conference.

“I think the evidence is clear that she didn’t know, because she told her bondsman about the travel and he knew where she was, so in her mind that’s important because she thinks she’s doing what she’s supposed to do,” defense attorney Harvey Steinberg explained.

“You may say no one’s following her, no one’s mistreating her, but in her mind, she’s been so careful because she thinks the system is looking for any excuse to throw her back in jail,” argued Steinberg, who practices with Springer and Steinberg in Denver.

Steinberg further argued Peters has a First Amendment right to speak at conferences, whether or not she is campaigning for office.

Judge Barrett remained incredulous at Steinberg’s confession that it was two days before any of Peters' defense attorneys informed her of the court’s order.

Ultimately the district attorney did not challenge Peters' story.

“I will leave it to the court to decide,” Rubinstein said. “I will not object if the court finds Ms. Peters did everything she needed to do and that Mr. Steinberg did not do everything he needed to do.”

Barrett called the case a conundrum.

“Most of the time, I afford people a second chance on bond because many defendants come in here struggling with homelessness and substance abuse, so when they fail a UA, I give them a second chance. But they don’t have three attorneys and the resources Ms. Peters has,” Barrett said. “They’re not flying around on private jets.”

Ultimately Barrett quashed the bondless arrest warrant against Peters and made it clear that any future travel must be formally submitted to the court a week in advance.  

“Defendant is a flight risk,” Barrett said. “She has the resources to do so, she has access to a private jet. She disappeared the previous fall, granted there was no case here, but she was the county clerk and no one knew where she was.”

Peters is currently on paid leave from her job as Mesa County Clerk and Recorder.

This past January, Secretary of State Griswold successfully sued to block Peters from participating in Mesa County’s elections for the second year in a row.

Both the Mesa County Board of County Commissioners and the district attorney’s office investigated Peters’ claims of irregularities in the 2020 vote count, but did not find evidence of a single fraudulent vote. Presented with Peters’ report of fraud, District Attorney Daniel Rubinstein found only human error.

Peters returns to court on Aug. 5 for arraignment.

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