Tina Peters pleads not guilty in election security breach case

DENVER — Tina Peters pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the 10 counts on which she was indicted earlier this year in connection with a May 2021 security breach of Mesa County’s election system, and a judge set her trial to begin March 6.

Peters, the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder, appeared remotely for her appearance in front of Judge Matthew D. Barrett Wednesday and immediately pleaded not guilty to the counts she faces in the election security case: three counts of attempt to influence a public servant; three counts of criminal impersonation; one count of identity theft; one count of official misconduct; one count of violation of elections duty; and one count of failure to comply with the secretary of state’s requirements.

District Attorney Dan Rubinstein and Peters’ attorney, Harvey Steinberg, told the court they had agreed they could likely get through the trial in the case in seven days.

Judge Barrett set the trial for March 6-14, 2023. A pretrial conference in the case was set for Feb. 28, and the judge set a Jan. 30 motions hearing in the case. Attorneys will have to file motions in the case by Nov. 14.

Peters’ arraignment comes a week after Rubinstein said the core part of his office’s joint investigation with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office into the election breach case, in which Peters and her former deputy clerk Belinda Knisley were indicted and former elections manager Sandra Brown was charged, was complete. But he asked a parallel federal investigation to continue.

Knisley entered a cooperation agreement with the district attorney’s office in which she agreed to testify against Peters, Brown, and any others who could potentially be charged in the alleged scheme. She pleaded guilty Aug. 25 to three misdemeanors – criminal trespass, violation of duty, and first-degree official misconduct – in two separate cases and avoided jail time when sentenced because of the agreement she reached with prosecutors.

Knisley had participated in a proffer session in early June in which she spoke with state and federal investigators for seven hours about the scheme, allegedly masterminded by Peters, to copy hard drive images of the county’s election systems and allow an unauthorized man named Conan Hayes into the trusted build of the election machines with the Secretary of State’s Office and Dominion Voting Systems.

Last August, video of the trusted build and passwords for the voting systems were posted online by right-wing conspiracy theorists who sympathize with Peters’ election denial efforts. The copies were posted while Peters was at Mike Lindell’s so-called election symposium.

In addition to the criminal case involving the election systems breach, Peters also faces a contempt of court case and one involving obstructing a peace officer and obstructing government operations.

The Colorado Supreme Court issued a rule Wednesday requiring Peters to submit written answers by Oct. 5 as to why her attorney should be able to depose Judge Barrett in connection with the contempt of court case. Judge Barrett would have 21 days after those arguments are submitted to reply.

Peters and her attorney, Steinberg, have been seeking to depose Barrett and Rubinstein, according to the Colorado Sun, about what led to Peters being charged with contempt of court for allegedly recording part of former deputy clerk Belinda Knisley’s February court hearing and lying to Barrett about doing so.

Barrett and Rubinstein have rebuffed the requests, saying that being deposed could undermine the criminal election breach case against Peters which Rubinstein is prosecuting and Barrett is hearing, but a different Mesa County District Court judge had ordered them to appear for the depositions before the matter went to the Supreme Court.

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