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‘Baggage’ in hand, former IRC attorney takes on commission

Lisa Hauser (File photo)

Seven months ago, attorney Lisa Hauser was busy helping Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Colleen Mathis decide how to consider and select consultants needed to redraw the state’s political boundaries.

Hauser’s assistance wasn’t entirely out of a sense of altruism. She was also laying the groundwork that could help her land a job serving as the commission’s Republican attorney, just as she did a decade ago — a high-profile and lucrative duty that Mathis later ensured she wouldn’t receive.

But by the time Senate Republicans on Nov. 1 ratified Brewer’s decision to remove Mathis for what the governor described as “gross misconduct in office,” Hauser had taken on a new redistricting client — Brewer, who will soon be called upon to defend her unprecedented action in court.

“I certainly understand that my involvement came with some baggage,” said Hauser, speaking of her new adversarial role aimed at ensuring Mathis’ redistricting days are over. “But I think the Governor’s Office understands that.”

Mathis was sworn in as the chairman of the IRC in early March after receiving a unanimous vote from Democrat and Republican commissioners. At the time, the commissioners praised Mathis as a bridge builder. Democratic Commissioner José Herrera said he hoped that the new chairwoman could prevent a partisan “soap opera” from taking over the redistricting process.

Among those in attendance were attorneys eager to meet the commissioners who could soon provide them with a job that could result in thousands of billable hours, not to mention prestige.

In that sense, Hauser was no different. But unlike the other potential IRC attorneys, she had played a leading role in securing a groundbreaking Arizona Supreme Court ruling in 2009 that recognized IRC authority, privilege and discretion to be equal to that held by the Legislature.

Soon after Mathis’ appointment, Hauser drew on her experience and provided the commission and the chairwoman advice in both public and private forums on how to hire staff, attorneys and mapping consultants.

By April, Hauser had provided Mathis with copies of the first IRC’s requests for proposals for mapping consultants, and she advised Mathis to ensure that future bidders be required to give fine point details on proposed work timelines and how they would consider constitutional redistricting criteria. She also advised Mathis to ask consultants how they would seek, record and categorize vast amounts of information, proposals and commentary provided to the commission by citizens.

The advice was well-received by Mathis, who, according to commission emails, forwarded the documents to state procurement officials charged with drafting commission requests for proposals. Many of the suggestions were heeded.

One month later, Hauser’s experience and help achieved nothing, as Mathis organized a commission vote that pitted her and IRC Democrats Herrera and Linda McNulty against Republicans Scott Freeman and Richard Stertz. The Republican attorney — chosen against the wishes of the IRC’s Republican commissioners, who favored Hauser — was Joseph Kanefield, Brewer’s former chief counsel.

After the vote, Hauser stormed out of the meeting room and slammed the door. She later returned, and was overheard telling a commissioner that she would talk to him later about the “backstabbing” that led to the vote.

She wasn’t finished. Within days, Hauser had filed detailed records requests seeking the procurement file held by the commission and state procurement officials that held commissioners’ individual, but anonymous, evaluations for each attorney.

In documents filed with state procurement officials, she all but accused one unnamed IRC member of attempting to “rig” the outcome by giving her unexplainably low evaluations — even on measurements reflecting the her knowledge and experience of election law and redistricting.

She then unsuccessfully challenged the finding that her law firm was deemed “not susceptible” to work for the IRC by the commission and state procurement officials.

“I didn’t like that,” she said. “That’s like saying I’m not qualified. I know I’m qualified.”

Hauser, known to colleagues, opposing litigators and legal observers as a sharp, creative and, at times, combative attorney, insists that she isn’t angry with Mathis or commission members. She refused to comment on whether Mathis’ or the IRC’s actions rise to the level of gross misconduct alleged by Brewer, and instead said her feelings are “not relevant.”

But that isn’t to say that Hauser is silent on commission affairs. She has criticized the panel for deviating from the “process” established by the first IRC, including her early recommendations that it conduct all of its business in public in order to create a public record that could be used defend the commission’s final work product to the public and to the U.S. Department of Justice.

On the commission’s most controversial issues — Mathis’ behind-the-scenes push to hire a mapping consultant with ties to liberal groups and causes, and the fact Mathis personally finalized amendments to the IRC’s draft congressional map — Hauser insists both measures would have been easily defended under the Arizona Supreme Court’s case law and politically more difficult to attack by critics if they occurred in public.

Still, Hauser’s unwillingness to speak to the serious accusations against Mathis and her removal isn’t matched by attorneys working for Mathis, the commission and other commission members.

IRC attorney Mary O’Grady, a former state solicitor general, who is petitioning the Arizona Supreme Court to reinstate Mathis, claimed in filings that Brewer displayed an “open disregard” for the high constitutional standard of what constitutes “gross misconduct” or “substantial neglect of duty.”

Attorney Andy Gordon, a longtime legal aide to former Gov. Janet Napolitano, is considering that his client, Commissioner McNulty, join the lawsuit as an intervener. He said Brewer’s move is an unprecedented abuse of power for partisan gain.

“Of all the wacky things I have seen in Arizona politics, this is the most shameful,” said Gordon, pledging that Mathis’ removal will ultimately leave the governor and the Legislature “looking like idiots.”

That confidence, however, is also displayed by Hauser, who claims that the 2009 ruling in Arizona Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission gives her a potent weapon.

Hauser claims that the full discretion awarded to the commission also cements the authority of the governor and the Legislature to determine — without court approval — whether commissioners deserve to be removed from office.

“The judgment of the criteria is up to the governor. I don’t foresee having an incredibly difficult case to defend against.”

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor hired Hauser because of her extensive redistricting experience.

“She wanted to bring in the best,” Benson said.

He brushed aside allegations from critics who claim the decision to remove Mathis was unwarranted and illegal, noting that the state Constitution “doesn’t say anything” about requiring the approval of judges to remove sitting commissioners.

And on the political front, Benson would not say whether Brewer viewed Mathis as a stalking horse with intentions on creating districts to benefit Democrats and to harm Republicans.

But, he added, Mathis’ “coordination and collaboration” with commission Democrats on controversial decisions initially led the governor to seek the removal of Mathis, Herrera and McNulty — an option turned down by Senate Republicans, leaving Mathis the sole target.

“I don’t know where fairness necessarily comes into play with politics. The governor preferred to remove all three, but we work with the Legislature, and we don’t necessarily always get what we want,” Benson said.

Attorneys for the commission and Mathis refused to comment on Hauser’s involvement. Attempts to contact Mathis were unsuccessful.

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