People in highly-paid, taxpayer-funded jobs who also are in positions to influence Mesa County actions and policies should be background checked, especially when they start doing potentially illegal things like helping the Mesa County Commissioners dismantle of the Board of Public Health for no real reason, and in apparent violation of county policies and state law.
Mesa County Attorney Todd M. Starr certainly meets that criteria. He makes a salary of $190,800/year, not including perks and benefits, and appears to have facilitated illegal acts by the Mesa County Commissioners against the Board of Public Health.
So I decided to background check him.
I consulted publicly available databases like Truthfinder.com, CoCourts.com, the Grand Junction Police Department’s database of criminal justice records and police reports, Daily Sentinel archives, the Pagosa Daily Post, the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the Rio Blanco Herald Times, Newspapers.com and of course, Google Search.
Here are some things I found out about Todd Starr:
A recent article on the front page of the July 5, 2023 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel describes an unsavory act committed by Mesa County Attorney Todd Starr, whom Commissioner Janet Rowland and the other commissioners hired in August, 2021.
Starr was sued for committing a fraud against the Court:
Earlier this year, Starr paid $37,5000 to settle a lawsuit brought against him by Simon Rodriguez, a trustee who was overseeing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.
The debtor in the case owed Starr $95,000. As trustee, Rodriguez was charged with selling off all the debtor’s assets and distributing the proceeds equitably to all of his creditors, but Starr didn’t want to wait in line with the other debtors to get paid from the creditor’s liquidated assets. Instead, Starr went behind the Court’s back and secretly helped the debtor sell a real property outside the view of the Court, so he (Starr) could pocket all the money from the sale. In so doing, Starr cheated all the other people in the case out of the money they were owed.
It was the moral equivalent of a kid stealing all the food out of the fridge and leaving the rest of the family half a head of lettuce.
“Starr knew the transfer of the proceeds from the sale of the real property was not authorized by the court, the trustee or the bankruptcy code,” Rodriguez wrote in his lawsuit against Starr. “Starr engaged in gross misconduct tantamount to fraud…”
Rowland knew about this lawsuit against Starr when she hired him, so she knew then there was a chance Starr had acted unethically when she green-lit him for the job of County attorney.
That alone should have been a red flag to a person in a position of public trust, but there were more unethical dealings in Starr’s background, too, that either Rowland and the commissioners knew about and chose to ignore, or that they didn’t bother to find out about:
Starr lied about legal fees to exact a personal vendetta
In November, 2013, when Starr was Archuleta County Attorney, Pagosa Springs journalist Bill Hudson sued the chair of the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners for violating Colorado’s Open Meetings Law. The Court dismissed the suit on a technicality, but Hudson was still ordered to pay $3,589.76 for searches Archuleta County employees reportedly had to conduct on WestLaw, an online legal database for lawyers and legal professionals.
An attorney friend of Hudson’s named Matthew Roane noticed that the amount Archuleta County was demanding Hudson pay for the WestLaw searches couldn’t possibly be correct, because the County paid a flat monthly fee to access Westlaw, they didn’t pay by the search. Roane requested copies of invoices, transaction logs and other documents pertinent to the WestLaw searches for the case and found they didn’t match up to the $3,5089.76 Hudson was ordered to pay. So on March 25, 2013, Roane filed a complaint against Todd Starr with the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, the state disciplinary agency for attorneys, charging that Starr had violated Colorado’s Rules of Professional Conduct by intentionally falsifying the amount of legal research fees due in Hudson’s case.
In his complaint, Roane explained why Starr may have been motivated to cheat Mr. Hudson:
“[M]y client … often asks me why I think a county attorney would misrepresent evidence to the court in the manner Mr. Starr did. Sadly, my answer always returns back to a personal vendetta. Mr. Hudson is a journalist who has been critical of our small town’s government in the past. During the course of litigation, Mr. Starr disparaged Mr. Hudson and his journal to me in private meetings, calling the latter an ‘on-line rag.’ Knowing full-well the legal prohibition against awarding costs incurred as part of a monthly, flat-rate plan, I believe Mr. Starr submitted the transaction logs under the guise of invoices in an effort to skirt the prohibition and punish Mr. Hudson. I suspect he wanted Mr. Hudson to suffer a stiff financial penalty as the price of challenging the county commissioners and its attorney. A reimbursement payment in the amount of $3,589.26 sure would sting a lot worse than a payment of only $259.50 (the cost of all non-research related expenses).
Starr violated the Rules of Professional Conduct
On June 10, 2013, Assistant Regulation Counsel Amy Devan wrote back to Mr. Roane, saying:
“After reviewing your information and Mr. Starr’s response….This office has now entered into a confidential agreement with Mr. Starr that requires him to complete a specific ethics-related course. If Mr. Starr adheres to the terms and conditions of the agreement, this matter will be closed and dismissed. If he fails to do so, our office may take further action pursuant to the Colorado Rules of Procedure Regarding Attorney Discipline…”
We have no way of knowing if Starr completed the ethics course he was ordered to take, but if he did, it didn’t have much effect.
Complaint to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission
In September, 2015, Greg Giehl of Archuleta County filed a complaint against Starr with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) charging that the commissioners had fired Starr as county attorney and then re-hired him for the exact same job as an independent contractor. Starr also was listed in a lawsuit that claimed the way the commissioners went about this maneuver violated Open Meetings Law. Giehl charged that the firing and re-hiring of Starr amounted to breach of fiduciary duty, “revolving door,” source selection/competitive bidding, and use of confidential information.
The IEC ruled the complaint non-frivolous and pursued it, which is why it is available to the public. But they ultimately dismissed it, in large part because the IEC has no jurisdiction over attorneys or judicial ethical violations. They only regulate elected officials. County attorneys are not elected.
But wait. There’s more.
A search of the Colorado Courts database revealed 32 legal cases involving Starr between 1995 and 2022. Nineteen of them are speeding tickets he got in Archuleta, Chafee, Cheyenne, Douglas, Jefferson, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Rio Grande, Rio Blanco, and Saguache counties. Starr typically got stopped for speeding 10-20 mph over the limit, plead guilty to most of the charges and paid an average of $150-200 in fines each time. He has also plead guilty to operating a defective/unsafe vehicle, no registration card in the vehicle, unregistered vehicle, failure to provide proof of insurance, “improper mountain driving,” no operator’s license and reckless driving.
As Archuleta County Attorney, Starr was sued twice by Archuleta County residents. One suit was about an alleged Open Meetings violation and in the other, county citizens asserted that Colorado law gave them the right to petition a measure onto the County ballot. Residents dropped both cases, though, after realizing the county had unlimited funds, resources and time to drag the cases out and increase the cost of bringing them, and their resources were finite.
In a 2022 case in District Court (2022CV800740), a Todd Starr was found guilty of failing to pay state taxes and had a judgment entered against him by the Colorado Department of Revenue on 12/16/2022 for $1,783.00. No middle initial or date of birth was listed for this case, so there is a slim chance it could have been a different Todd Starr, but did occur in Mesa County while Todd M. Starr was living here.
But the most telling legal/ethical violation isn’t on the list of court cases or any law enforcement database.
It was a confession Starr made behind closed doors to a Rio Blanco employee who spilled it in a letter to the editor of the Rio Blanco Herald Times. It relates to what Starr has done here in Mesa County, specifically helping Commissioner Janet Rowland move to fire the Board of Public Health, even though Commissioners can’t legally fire members of Boards of Health in Colorado.
A former employee of Rio Blanco County named Jeff Kummer had been a building inspector for the county for 13 years. Kummer led a recall effort against Rio Blanco County Commissioner Gary Moyer in 2022.
Fact: I attended a meeting that was likely held in violation of Colorado’s Sunshine Laws, where I saw and heard Commissioner [Gary] Moyer in a raised, angry voice, order County Attorney, Todd Starr, to have the proven-unlawful Resolution 2019-14 ready to be signed into law, the next day, at a Rangely meeting. Commissioner Moyer stated, “because I have made promises.” This makes you wonder to whom and why he had made promises to seriously destroy the effectiveness of the RBC [Rio Blanco County] Building Codes.
Fact: Soon after Commissioners Moyer and Rector signed Resolution 2019-14 into law, County Attorney, Todd Starr, came to my then office, closed the door and told me that the contents of the Resolution were f—ing crazy and that he only did what he was ordered to do by Commissioner Moyer.
It sounds like Starr is still doing things he knows are f—ing crazy, but this time it’s at the behest of Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland instead of a Rio Blanco County commissioner. Starr knows his job is to make whatever Janet Rowland wants to do happen, whether it’s legal or not, or he won’t have a job any more.
So Starr will not provide any legal guardrails to whatever Rowland wants to do.
For the record, to explore the consequences of Starr’s actions on this count, I asked the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel about Starr’s writing a letter to the members of the Mesa County Board of Health saying the commissioners were going to fire them, when county commissioners can’t legally fire members of the Board of Health in Colorado. The Attorney Regulation Counsel attorney, Catherine Shea, said if Starr knowingly advised the commissioners to do something illegal, it would have to be proven in a court of law before their office could do anything, and that it was up to citizens to bring a private lawsuit against Starr to prove that is in fact what he did.
But just as in Archuleta County, Starr and the Mesa County Commissioners have unlimited resources to fight any such lawsuit, drag it out, and make it more expensive for the plaintiffs. This means with Starr, Rowland and the other Mesa County commissioners can pretty much commit as many illegal or unethical acts as they want while they’re in office, and citizens have zero recourse until the next election.
The only cost-free solution to the problem of Todd Starr-facilitated malfeasance on the county commission is for Mesa County residents to vote the current commissioners out of office at the first opportunity, and elect law-abiding, ethical commissioners who won’t use their office to exact personal vendettas, who will serve the best interests of County residents rather than their own egos, and who will fire Starr immediately upon taking office and hire a county attorney who has a clean record, a strong spine, and the moral courage to tell the commissioners when they are breaking the law, and refuse to help them do it.