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Bundgaard claims Ethics Committee will recommend expulsion

Sen. Scott Bundgaard, the Peoria Republican who is embroiled in a full-blown Senate Ethics Committee trial, listens Dec. 20 to the committee hash out details about how the trial will move forward. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Sen. Scott Bundgaard, who is facing an inquiry into whether he breached ethical rules, is convinced the panel of lawmakers tasked to judge his conduct will recommend his expulsion from the Senate.

In a court filing on Tuesday, the Peoria Republican said that three members of the Senate Ethics Committee – who constitute a majority of the five-person panel – have already “convicted” him and that the hearing’s outcome can be predicted with “some certainty.”

“Those facts clearly justify Senator Bundgaard’s concern that the committee’s hearing … will be nothing more than a perfunctory task to be completed before the committee can reach its predetermined conclusion that he violated a Senate ethics rule and recommend his expulsion from the Arizona State Senate,” the senator’s lawyer, Andre Merrett, wrote.

Merrett was referring to arguments Bundgaard made when he asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order against the ethics trial targeting him.

In addition to an expulsion from the Legislature, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, the committee may also recommend to reprimand or censure Bundgaard. The committee can also dismiss the complaint against him.

The Senate ethics trial is scheduled for Jan. 5, though the judge who is hearing Bundgaard’s lawsuit against the committee is expected to rule beforehand whether the court has the authority to interject in the legislative hearing.

In the document he submitted to the court, Merrett said Bundgaard isn’t asking the court to perform functions delegated to the Legislature by the state Constitution.

Instead, the attorney argued, Bundgaard wants to ensure that the ethics panel is exercising its authority “legitimately.”

Claiming he’s already been prejudged by three of the committee’s members – Republican Sen. Ron Gould and Democratic Sens. David Schapira and Leah Landrum Taylor – Bundgaard has fought the ethics inquiry against him from the start.

The injunction he’s seeking is his latest — and maybe final — attempt to halt the ethics investigation.

Meanwhile, Kory Langhofer, the committee’s attorney, insisted that the court is being asked to wade into a political question that it can’t appropriately resolve.

Also, Langhofer dismissed Bundgaard’s argument that the lawmaker would suffer a hardship because he will be “forced to suffer continued media scrutiny” if the “illegal” hearing moved ahead.

In his court reply, Langhofer said Bundgaard volunteered to be in public office; in short, media scrutiny is par for the course.

It’s the Ethics Committee that will suffer a hardship if the hearing is stopped, Langhofer said.

“It would impair the (commission’s) constitutional authority to investigate and sanction unethical conduct in legislators, discourage future investigations into unethical conduct in legislators, and threaten a constitutional showdown between the courts and the Legislature,” Langhofer said.

The ethics panel had decided in August to investigate a complaint against Bundgaard filed by Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.

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 February freeway altercation in which both he and his then-girlfriend, Aubry Ballard, emerged bruised and battered.

A misdemeanor assault charge against Bundgaard was dropped in a 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 cost Bundgaard his post as majority leader in the Senate.

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