Attorneys defending the state’s redistricting commission against allegations of open meeting law violations are touting an appellate court decision today as a victory. So is the county prosecutor who pursued the allegations.
A Court of Appeals panel found that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is subject to the state’s open meeting laws but that prosecutors may not continue investigating the commission’s alleged open meeting law violations.
The investigation was to determine whether the commission broke the law when it hired a consultant in 2011 to help draw new district boundaries. Writing for the court, Judge Donn Kessler said the prosecution lacked probable cause to continue the investigation.
Today’s ruling overturned a decision by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink from December 2011.
Fink ruled that the commission is bound only by the constitutional provisions establishing its authority, which include some specific transparency requirements, but which are narrower than state open meeting laws.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who appealed Fink’s decision, counted today’s ruling as a victory. If the commission were not subject to open meeting laws, he said, Arizona voters “would otherwise have been shocked to learn that a fourth branch of government had been created to affect political representation with no accountability.”
But Mary O’Grady, one of the redistricting commission’s two attorneys, also claimed victory because Kessler said the original allegations of open meeting law violations were not backed by reasonable cause.
“The bottom line is that we’re very pleased that the appellate court confirmed the trial court’s ruling on the reasonable cause,” O’Grady said. “There’s no cause for the investigation. That’s what the finding of the trial court, and that remains undisturbed on appeal.”
O’Grady said she would need to consult with the commission to determine whether an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court is necessary to challenge the appellate court’s ruling regarding the open meeting laws.
Montgomery said he does not plan to appeal the part of the appellate court ruling that prevents the further investigation of the original allegations of open meeting law violations.