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Federal judge throws out Tina Peters' lawsuit against US government

Updated: Jun 20

Judge Nina Wang found no basis to intervene in an alleged federal investigation into Peters' conduct

Colorado Politics

May 22, 2024

Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters addresses supporters on Wednesday at a press conference held in Greenwood Village by self-described grassroots activists who say they want to restore conservative leadership of the Colorado Republican Party.

Ernest Luning, Colorado Politics

A federal judge on Monday threw out an attempt by former Mesa County clerk Tina Peters to end an alleged criminal investigation of her for conduct related to election equipment tampering.

Peters, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for secretary of state in 2022 and GOP party chair in 2023, is set to face criminal trial in state court in July. The charges center on Peters' alleged actions as clerk to grant an unauthorized person access to an upgrade of the county's voting equipment, resulting in videos and confidential passwords later being posted online.

In January, U.S. District Court Judge Nina Y. Wang dismissed Peters' attempt to halt those proceedings. However, Peters separately sought Wang's intervention into an alleged U.S. Department of Justice investigation for her potential violations of federal law. No charges are pending against Peters from that investigation.

In a May 20 order, Wang similarly declined to intervene in the alleged federal proceedings against Peters. She noted Peters' own arguments were confused, cited evidence that did not support Peters' position or were otherwise unpersuasive.

"Because Ms. Peters has not plausibly alleged, much less established, facts supporting bad faith, retaliatory motive, or any other 'extraordinary circumstances,' she cannot use her civil suit to enjoin the federal criminal investigation and this Court must dismiss her claim," wrote Wang, an appointee of President Joe Biden.

Peters was removed by court order from supervising Mesa County's 2021 election amid allegations she helped leak sensitive voting equipment data. Her federal complaint acknowledged she provided forensic images from the county's election management system to "computer experts," which allegedly confirmed her belief that a software upgrade ordered by Secretary of State Jena Griswold was legally problematic.

The subsequent investigation into Peters was meant to "punish her for exercising her First Amendment free speech right for the purpose of informing her fellow citizens of illegal actions of Griswold and problems with the computer voting system in Mesa County," her lawyers claimed.

However, a Mesa County judge confirmed there was, in fact, probable cause to support Peters' state election tampering charges. As for the alleged federal investigation, the government pointed out none of the potential crimes at issue was speech-related.

"Plaintiff does not identify the specific tactics or conduct at issue or explain how these unspecified tactics have chilled her speech. Nor does she identify any speech in which she has refrained from engaging," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer R. Lake.

Wang agreed with the government that courts "rarely conclude that an ongoing criminal investigation warrants judicial review prior to indictment." She noted Peters, should she be indicted, has other ways to claim a violation of her free speech rights, namely by moving to dismiss the indictment.

To the extent Peters argued the Biden administration was intent on retaliating against those who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, that conclusion was "wholly unsupported by the allegations and 'evidence' on which Plaintiff relies," Wang wrote.

The case is Peters v. United States et al.

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