Office of Legislative Legal Services - Dan L. Cartin, Director
 
Tutorial Home
Legislative Legal Services
General Assembly
State of Colorado

Ethics Tutorial - Colorado General Assembly

- Legislative Immunity - 22 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 - publication by legislative staff

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.

Following the completion of the Interim Committee on Hydraulic Fracturing's meetings, the committee, with the assistance of Legislative Council Staff, issues a written final report that quotes as part of a summary of proceedings the allegedly defamatory statements made by the legislator.  The CEO then amends his defamation complaint to include both the other legislators who served on the committee and the legislative staff who prepared the report as defendants.

Question


Does legislative immunity prevent the legislators and legislative staff from being found liable for defamation?

Select No, although the legislator who made the allegedly defamatory statements is entitled to legislative immunity because the statements were made during an official legislative proceeding, the other legislators and legislative staff are not entitled to legislative immunity because they republished the statements outside of the meeting.

Select Yes, because the republication of the allegedly defamatory statements occurred in an official legislative report it falls within the "sphere of legitimate legislative activity."

Select Yes and No. Because the republication of the allegedly defamatory statements occurred in an official legislative report, it falls within the "sphere of legitimate legislative activity" and the legislators cannot be found liable for defamation.  But the legislative staff may be found liable for defamation because legislative immunity only protects legislators.

Select No, legislative immunity does not protect the other legislators and staff from being found liable for defamation.  But under the law of defamation itself, the other legislators and legislative staff  cannot be found liable for defamation because only the person who originally makes an allegedly defamatory statement may be held liable for the statement.


 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25

Last updated: 09 OCT 2015


Office of Legislative Legal Services, State Capitol Building, 200 E Colfax Ave Ste 091, Denver, Colorado 80203-1716
Telephone: 303-866-2045 | Facsimile: 303-866-4157
Send comments about this web page to: olls.ga@state.co.us
 


The information on this page is presented as an informational service only and should not be relied upon as an official record of action or legal position of the State of Colorado, the Colorado General Assembly, or the Office of Legislative Legal Services.