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Scott McInnis exonerated in plagiarism case, Denver Post indirectly cited for suspect reporting

Last year government watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch asked the state’s Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel to investigate charges that Colorado-licensed attorney and former Congressman Scott McInnis violated professional ethics when he reportedly plagiarized articles he was contracted to write for the Hasan Family Foundation. The plagiarism charges tanked McInnis’s 2010 campaign for governor, but the Regulation Counsel found McInnis not guilty of either plagiarizing or misrepresenting his work to the foundation. The Counsel’s report on the investigation released Friday fingers the Denver Post, which broke the plagiarism story, as the guilty party in the scandal, saying the paper’s reporting was riddled with errors.

“We’re satisfied that [the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel] did a very thorough investigation of the matter,” Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro told the Colorado Independent. “They took their time to look closely at the material and deposed two witnesses. We’re glad that they put a period on this story. The public gains in transparency for its having done the investigation.”

Retiring from Congress in 2005, McInnis agreed to write a series of articles on water in the west and to promote them for the Hasan Foundation for $300,000. McInnis leaned on water expert Rolly Fischer to do research for the articles.

When the Denver Post reported that large sections of the articles McInnis turned in were plagiarized, McInnis responded that it was Fischer who had lifted sections from a paper written decades earlier by Justice Gregory Hobbs. McInnis said he was unaware of the uncredited borrowing until the Post reported it.

But the plagiarism was a fact and McInnis’s name was attached to the articles for which he was paid a relatively vast sum of money. The Post went after McInnis in a series of pieces and the media had a field day with the story. The public soured on the McInnis candidacy as a result. McInnis lost a humiliating primary election to untested amateur politician Dan Maes.

From Law Week Colorado:

“Mr. Fischer alone chose to import large sections of text previously written by the Honorable Justice Gregory Hobbs into one of the articles drafted for Mr. McInnis, without credit citation,” states the results of the investigation.

Fischer apparently argued that the use was not plagiarism because he believes the article is part of the “public domain,” according to the investigation, compiled from interviews with Fischer.

Fischer had never disclosed to McInnis that he had taken Hobbs’ work, according to the report.

While the Hasan Foundation had originally stated in a news release that McInnis had never disclosed to them the use of Fischer as a research assistant, the investigation found that in fact McInnis had disclosed that information to the foundation.

“For all these reasons, there is no clear and convincing evidence Mr. McInnis knowingly engaged in dishonest conduct by either: (1) plagiarizing Justice Hobbs’ work, or (2) reporting to the Foundation that the articles were his original work,” states the report.

The story was first reported and broken by the Denver Post, which then led a large editorial campaign against McInnis, calling for the former Congressman to back out of the primary given the allegations.

But Regulation Counsel John S. Gleason says the Denver Post reported erroneous facts.

“While both Mr. Fischer and [Hasan Family Foundation Chairwoman Seeme] Hasan provided contradictory accounts to the press at the time this issue was raised by the Denver Post, a more thorough review of their archived materials demonstrates that both had forgotten several specific communications with Mr. McInnis that had occurred several years before,” states Gleason.

McInnis supporters are now calling for an ethics examination into the reporting of the Denver Post.

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