A judge has ordered five members of the Senate Ethics Committee to appear in court on Tuesday, presumably to explain why Sen. Scott Bundgaard’s ethics trial should move forward.
The order stems from a lawsuit that Bundgaard recently filed against members of the committee, alleging they violated the panel’s rules by failing to hold the ethics hearing against him in a timely manner.
Bundgaard is seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the Senate panel from meeting to investigate whether he’s guilty of an ethical breach and later decide possible sanctions against him.
In his order last week, Judge John Buttrick of the Maricopa County Superior Court told Sens. Ron Gould, Andy Biggs, Leah Landrum Taylor, David Schapira and Steve Yarbrough to show up in court at 11 a.m. Tuesday – two hours after the ethics panel is scheduled to meet to further hash out the mechanics of the ethics trial against Bundgaard.
The actual trial is expected to be held on Jan. 5.
Also in the order, Buttrick scribbled his owns words, saying it is a “15 minute return hearing only.”
This led Attorney Kory Langhofer, the committee’s independent counsel who has also been hired to represent Gould and the others in the lawsuit against them, to suspect the judge merely wants to discuss how to proceed.
“He’s not signaling in this order that he anticipates resolving the issue at this hearing,” he said.
It’s unclear whether all five members must show up in court, or whether Langhofer’s attendance would suffice.
Langhofer said such an order is routine whenever one party asks for a preliminary injunction.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the committee is also expected to tackle a motion filed by Langhofer last week asking the ethics committee to do three things: lower the burden of proof needed to find Bundgaard in violation of ethics rules, clarify what types of “evidence” to admit during the trial, and allow Langhofer to be the first and last in presenting evidence, as well as in making the closing argument.
Langhofer said the last request follows normal courtroom procedures.
The ethics panel decided in August to investigate the complaint against Bundgaard filed by Gallardo.
The complaint alleges that the Peoria Republican broke Senate rules by violating state law and by engaging in conduct that reflects poorly on the Senate.
Bundgaard pleaded no contest on Aug. 16 to a misdemeanor endangerment charge stemming from the freeway altercation in which both he and his then-girlfriend, Aubry Ballard, emerged bruised and battered. A misdemeanor assault charge was dropped in Bundgaard’s plea deal with prosecutors.
Under the plea agreement, Bundgaard’s endangerment charge will also 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.