The trial involving whether Sen. Scott Bundgaard breached ethical rules could be pushed back to next year, when the legislative session starts.
Sen. Ron Gould, chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said the committee needs to resolve a request by a Democratic senator who is asking the committee to adopt a less-stringent burden of proof in investigating Bundgaard.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who filed the ethics charge against the Peoria Republican, also asked that the burden of proving the case against Bundgaard’s be placed essentially on the committee, either through the Senate Rules Attorney or through an independent counsel.
Right now, that burden lies with Gallardo and his attorney.
Gould wants all five panel members to rule on Gallardo’s request, and the decision could have a direct bearing on a “pretrial” hearing the committee is contemplating before the investigation.
Pushing back the “pre-trial” conference, where the committee is hoping to get agreements to speed up the investigation, would, in turn, mean a further delay in the actual Bundgaard trial.
“It may be (taking place) during the regular session, the way that it’s going,” Gould said, referring to the actual inquiry, when both sides are expected to present witnesses and evidence to prove their case.
Gould said the soonest that the committee can meet to tackle Gallardo’s request is Oct. 27.
But Gould, who is adamant that all five committee members are present during the hearings, doubts whether everybody can make it if the actual trial happens between Thanksgiving and New Year.
There is one advantage to the committee if the trial occurred next year. With everybody at the Capitol, it’d be much easier to ensure a perfect attendance.
In a letter by his lawyer on Sept. 29, Gallardo said a lower standard of proof should be applied because some of Bundgaard’s actions may not be illegal, but they still put the Senate in a bad light.
“By adopting a higher ‘clear and convincing’ standard of proof, the Committee has effectively departed from the standard burden used in many other jurisdictions, and given the respondent a favorable starting point in the investigation,” said the letter that he submitted to Gould.
There are two lower burdens of proof that the committee can apply – substantial evidence and preponderance of evidence.
Gallardo also said the job of proving Bundgaard’s guilt should fall on the committee through the Senate Rules Attorney or through an independent counsel — not on him.
That’s what committee rules and state law contemplate, he said.
But if the committee won’t grant these requests, the Democrat asked that the committee have Bundgaard pay for attorneys’ fees if it’s proven he violated the chamber’s ethics rules.
Gallardo’s ethics complaint against Bundgaard stemmed from a freeway altercation the Peoria Republican had with his then-girlfriend in February.
Bundgaard pleaded no contest Aug. 16 to a misdemeanor endangerment charge stemming from the fight.
Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, the endangerment charge will be dismissed if Bundgaard completes counseling through a domestic violence diversion program. Also, a misdemeanor charge of assault was dismissed under the plea agreement.
Bundgaard and his former girlfriend, Aubry Ballard, argued in his car while returning home from a charity dance.
Both had scratches and bruises and blamed the other for starting a physical altercation, but police said witnesses supported Ballard’s account.