Arizona officials say the state House seat held by Republican Doug Quelland of Phoenix is officially vacant because of a court ruling upholding Quelland’s removal from office. But Quelland’s lawyer says that isn’t so and the state is acting prematurely.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett on Wednesday informed the state Republican Party of the need to begin work on appointing a replacement. Bennett acted after the Citizens Clean Election Commission formally notified him of the vacancy.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on May 17 ruled against Quelland’s appeal of the commission’s May 2009 order. That order said Quelland padded his publicly funded 2008 campaign with private spending.
Quelland could still take his case to an appeals court or the state Supreme Court. But he hasn’t decided whether he’ll do so, said his attorney, Tim Casey.
Casey called the letters a “pre-emptive move by aggressive government actors” and said his client’s seat isn’t considered vacant unless he fails to appeal by the June 14 deadline.
“In our legal system, until all due process and legal appeals are exhausted, no one loses an office unless they voluntarily forfeit or resign,” Casey said.
Quelland chose to participate in Arizona’s Clean Elections system for his 2008 campaign, accepting public money but agreeing to stay within strict spending limits.
The commission contends Quelland knowingly cheated the system by using his businesses to pay a public relations firm $15,000 in fees and free rent on retail space. Testimony by Larry Davis, the firm’s owner, supported the commission’s claim.
Quelland maintains he did nothing wrong. He has said work done for his campaigns by employees of Intermedia Public Relations was on a volunteer basis and that he paid the firm only for work done for his businesses.
Quelland would be the second Arizona politician to leave office because of a public financing law approved by Arizona voters in 1998. Rep. David Burnell Smith of Scottsdale stepped down in 2006 after courts upheld the commission’s 2005 ruling that he leave office and pay a fine for violations in his 2004 election bid.
Quelland is running for re-election in November and again participating in the public campaign financing program.