24 January 2011

Greeley-Evans School Board Member A Menace

We knew Brett Reese was a bad example when the Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education member (elected in November 2009 with a fourth place finish out of five candidates with 9,648 votes to a four year term) used his low power radio station to run an anti-Martin Luther King, Jr. letter with heavy conspiracy theory overtones.

His decision to bring a concealed weapon to school board meetings heightened our concern and was circumvented by the rest of the board by scheduling school board meetings in school and having a policeman on hand to address his fears for his personal safety.

But, he crossed a line when he told a fellow radio station owner that he would get in a "shoot out" with him in a voice mail (a recording of which is available at the link) which was interpreted as a threat, and a Judge agreed with a the fellow radio station owner that this interpretation of Reese's statement was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances (including Reese's recent oddball behavior and the assassination attempt on a Democratic Congresswoman in Tuscon), despite Reese's claim that the statement wasn't intended as a threat.

As a result the temporary restraining order obtained against Reese was made permanent by the judge in his case. He has been ordered to forever "stay at least 100 yards away from his business competitor KFKA 1310 AM radio general manager Justin Sasso's home, business and body, and permanently revokes a concealed weapon permit that Reese has had for more than two years.

Restraining orders are civil, rather than criminal (although a failure to comply with one is both a civil and criminal wrong), so the burden of proof to have one imposed is lower than in a criminal case and there is no right to a jury trial on one (as injunctions fall within the "equitable" part of a court's jurisdiction). While it is called a "permanent restraining order," it can be modified or lifted with court permission in a motion brought as often as once every four years. "Threatened bodily harm" is a ground for issuance of a civil protection order (the proper legal name for one in Colorado). A temporary order must allege an "imminent danger" arising from the threat, but a permanent one issued after an evidentiary adversary hearing on the matter need not show that the danger is imminent. Instead, it is merely necessary to show that "the defendant has committed acts constituting grounds for issuance of a civil protection order and that unless restrained will continue to commit such acts."

The judge found that Reese did make a threat and that he would continue to make threats if not restrained.

One could legitimately argue as a lawyer to interpret Reese's statements as a threat, or a mere metaphor, but I can't say that the judge was clearly wrong in finding that this was a threat. Reese's multiple recent controversies show him to be a volatile individual with bad judgment, and nobody forced him to call up his competition and say what he did at a time when his willingness to use a gun was all over the papers.

If there is an appeal of the ruling, the question before the appellate court will not be whether or not they agree with the decision made by a trial court judge considering the question "de novo," but whether his interpretation of the facts and law was so off base that it must be reversed on appeal (there are several standards of review that apply in this kind of situation with similar meanings, such a determination that there was an "abuse of discretion," a determination that "no reasonable finder of fact," could reach the same conclusion, or a holding that a finding of fact was "clearly erroneous", and I am not going to exhaustively research which one is correct for this post). Since the decision was made by a county court judge, the first appeal from the decision would be to a single district court judge in Weld County, and the next appeal would be to the Colorado Supreme Court.

None of this, of course, forces Brett Reece to resign from his office as a school board member, although the example he is setting for the students in the district is growing increasingly bad. He can be removed upon resignation, loss of residency, conviction of a felony, a court finding that he is "insane or otherwise mentally incompetent" to "such a degree that the person is incapable of serving as a school director," death, or unexcused failure to attend three or more consecutive school board meetings. But, all of this makes ample fodder for a recall effort, should strongly encourage Reece to resign his post, and certainly hurts his shot at getting re-elected. A recall petition requires signatures of 40% of the voters who voted in the last school board election, which is a little hard to determine directly from the outcome of the election, since voters were allowed to vote for up to four candidates, but some, no doubt, did not vote for a full slate of four candidates, but would require approximately 4,900 signatures in the sixty days after the approval of the petition form.

He claims to have received death threats and to have lost advertisers at his radio station as a result of the controversy.

If there is a recall, at least the clerk and recorder will know what to do, having just conducted a school board recall election this past December.

Fortunately, since school boards have multiple members, all of whom seem to be united against him on the issues he has identified as key to him, in part because he is apparently a difficult when it comes to carrying out his board duties in addition to being known for close to the line rhetoric (“That's how you make a successful business. You don't reinvent the wheel. You go steal it.”), and in part because he is world's apart in policy attitudes from the other board members (he strongly opposed the most recently property tax increase for the district and home schools his own three children); so he probably isn't capable of doing much harm even if he serves out his full term of office.

He far right conservatism, by the way, isn't limited to guns and Martin Luther King, Jr. Consider this question he poses at a GLBT forum:

How is it that sexual deviance, such as homosexuality and bisexuality, are different and OK when incest among consenting adults, polygamy and group marriage is considered in our society not OK and a means of sexual deviancy?

Suffice it to say that his comments on this issue, and on MLK, Jr. would not be helpful to the district if it faced an employment discrimination lawsuit.

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