The Senate Ethics Committee has hired a former federal prosecutor to investigate whether Sen. Scott Bundgaard broke ethics rules in a roadside scuffle with his ex-girlfriend.
And the attorney, Kory Langhofer, appears to be aggressively pursuing the case: He said he will likely call witnesses to testify in the ethics trial next month, including alleged victim Aubry Ballard, police officers and other eye witnesses to the domestic-violence incident.
Langhofer, who works at Snell & Wilmer as an elections law attorney, also said he plans to seek notes and audio recordings of Bundgaard from news organizations who have covered the story since it broke Feb. 25.
Langhofer on Monday requested that information from the Arizona Capitol Times. The newspaper said it would not be inclined turn over any notes or recordings, if they exist, held by reporters who covered the story.
Langhofer said later in the conversation that a subpoena would be the likely route he would take in trying to obtain the information, but he did not specifically say he would seek the court order.
“Unless I’m missing something, then, probably the best way for me to proceed would just be to send out a subpoena to your attorneys …” he said.
Langhofer was hired by the Senate Ethics Committee on Nov. 28, though he is not being paid, according to Ethics Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Gould.
Langhofer has logged hundreds of hours in federal court as an assistant U.S. attorney in Phoenix. While with the office, he handled organized crime and drug-related cases.
He said his job in Bundgaard’s ethics trial will be to act, in essence, as a special prosecutor in investigating the Peoria senator’s actions and whether they breached Senate ethics rules.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20; Gould said Jan. 5 is the target for the actual ethics trial – just days before the start of the 2012 legislative session.
“It is conceivably possible that I would investigate the complaint and determine the complaint is baseless and present evidence vindicating Sen. Bundgaard to the committee,” Langhofer said. “But whether that’s likely or not, we’ll just have to see over time.”
Langhofer said it’s almost certain that he will seek to compel a number of people to testify, including Bundgaard’s ex-girlfriend, police investigators and eye witnesses.
“The rules certainly anticipate the presentation of evidence and I think some of the most important witnesses might be Aubry Ballard – the person who claims to have been the victim here – and anyone else who saw that happen or talked to people who were involved with it shortly afterwards,” he said.
The Ethics Committee decided in August to investigate a complaint filed by Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo.
The complaint alleges that Bundgaard broke Senate rules by violating state law and by engaging in conduct that reflects poorly on the Senate.
Bundgaard pleaded no contest Aug. 16 to a misdemeanor endangerment charge stemming from the freeway altercation in which both he and Ballard emerged bruised and battered. A misdemeanor assault charge was dropped in a plea deal.
Under a plea agreement with Phoenix prosecutors, Bundgaard’s endangerment charge will be dismissed if he completes one year of counseling through a domestic-violence diversion program.
The freeway fight began while Bundgaard and Ballard were in the senator’s car after attending a charity dance.
While both were bruised up, police said witnesses supported Ballard’s account of events that evening.
Ballard was arrested that night, but Bundgaard was not. The police report says the senator invoked a constitutional provision that gives lawmakers immunity from arrest during the legislative session. Bundgaard has denied he invoked the immunity.
The altercation also cost Bundgaard his post as majority leader in the Senate.
Gould said Langhofer came recommended by Senate Rules Attorney Stacy Weltsch. Gould said he’s confident Langhofer will present a good case.
“I don’t think that he would really want to do a bad job because it’s going to be high profile, and it would reflect poorly on his resume if he were to do a poor job,” Gould said.
The Lake Havasu City Republican also said he would not have hired Langhofer if he wanted to simply protect a fellow senator just because he is a party-mate.
“I haven’t really been one of the people that wanted to protect members of my caucus, which is why I’m the ethics chairman instead of somebody else. So I’m going to pick somebody that I think that can prosecute the case,” he said. “I’m not looking for somebody to go softly on people that the ethics brings an investigation forward upon.”
Bundgaard could not be immediately reached for comment.
– Arizona Capitol Times reporter Luige del Puerto contributed to this story