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The Douglas County School District was cleared of wrongdoing in a lawsuit dating to 2013 following a Colorado Supreme Court ruling July 3.
The court reviewed a court of appeals' conclusion that the school district did not make a prohibited contribution in a school board election campaign.
The court ruled that under Colorado's Fair Campaign Practices Act, the definition of "contribution" requires that something of value be given to a candidate, directly or indirectly for the purpose of promoting the candidate's nomination, retention, recall or election.
In 2013, the school district used public funds to commission a paper, titled the Hess Report, supportive of the district's reforms.
The school district paid half of the $30,000 contracted fee for the report. The Douglas County Educational Foundation - the district's nonprofit fundraising arm - paid the rest.
The Hess Report referenced an upcoming school board election and briefly profiled existing school board members, all of who supported the reform agenda, according to court documents.
The district included a link to the report in an email distributed to 85,000 Douglas County residents several weeks before the 2013 school board election.
The lawsuit was brought by Julie Keim, a former Douglas County school board candidate who said the report was used to aid her opponents who supported the reforms.
The four candidates in support of the district's reforms, Doug Benevento, Meghann Silverthorn, Judi Reynolds and James Geddes, won the election.
"Because the school district did not give something, directly or indirectly, to any candidate when it publicly disseminated an email containing a link to the report, the supreme court concludes the school district did not make a prohibited 'contribution' under these Colorado campaign finance provisions," the court said in its opinion. "The supreme court therefore affirms the judgment of the court of appeals."
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's decision and found the district did not violate the state's Fair Campaign Practices Act. The three-judge Court of Appeals panel was split in its ruling, with one judge voting to uphold the administrative law judge's decision.
"We are pleased that the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously upheld the lower court's ruling, finding that the Douglas County School District did not violate any campaign finance laws," DCSD Legal Counsel William Trachman said in a statement. "We are happy this matter is now resolved."
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