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Ethics Tutorial - Colorado General Assembly

- Legislative Immunity - 21 of 25

Background

Legislative immunity, which is provided to members of the Colorado General Assembly by article V, section 16 of the state constitution, is designed to preserve the integrity of the legislative process and protect the legislative branch from intimidation by the executive and judicial branches of government and private parties.  It grants legislators immunity from civil lawsuits and state criminal prosecution, but not federal criminal prosecution, and a privilege against being compelled to testify or produce documents in legal proceedings with respect to matters that fall within the "sphere of legitimate legislative activity."  The "sphere of legitimate legislative activity" includes actions taken during official legislative proceedings conducted in accordance with constitutional procedural requirements and other activities that are integral to the legislative (i.e., lawmaking) function but does not include actions taken outside of official legislative proceedings that are not integral to the legislative function.

Hypothetical

Defamation - legislator statement to legislative witness

The CEO of a privately held oil and gas exploration company testifies during a meeting of a special Interim Committee on Hydraulic Fracturing that imposing a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing or allowing local governments to ban or otherwise regulate hydraulic fracturing will drive oil and gas exploration companies out of Colorado and severely damage Colorado's economy.  In response, a legislator on the committee who supports a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing calls the CEO a "greedy baby-murdering liar" who is concerned only about the bottom line and says that "you don't even care that fracking by your company is poisoning our water and food supply, causing an epidemic of severe birth defects, and making our children sick!"  The CEO sues the legislator for defamation.

Question


Does legislative immunity prevent the legislator from being found liable for defamation?

Select No, because interim committees are study committees rather than committees of reference and only have the power to act regarding proposed legislation that has not yet been introduced and assigned a bill number, the legislator's allegedly defamatory statements were not made within the "sphere of legitimate legislative activity."

Select No, because the legislator's allegedly defamatory statements were so outrageous that the "outrageous conduct" exception to legislative immunity applies.

Select Yes, because the interim committee meeting at which the legislator made the allegedly defamatory statements was an official legislative proceeding, the legislator was acting within the "sphere of legitimate legislative activity" and cannot be found liable for the statement in a civil lawsuit.

Select Yes, because the allegedly defamatory statements were made in the context of a discussion about public policy options that could reasonably expect to lead to legislation being proposed, they fall within the "sphere of legitimate legislative activity."


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Last updated: 09 OCT 2015


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