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Attorney for Carlyle Begay responds to attempt to remove him from Senate

Newly sworn-inLD7 Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado. (Photo by Jim Small / Arizona Capitol Times.)

Newly sworn-inLD7 Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado. (Photo by Jim Small / Arizona Capitol Times.)

An attorney for Sen. Carlyle Begay called Rep. Albert Hale’s request that the Apache County Attorney’s Office challenge Begay’s recent appointment to statewide office an “inappropriate attempt… to advance his own agenda” and raised questions about the legality of such a challenge.

In a letter sent to Deputy Apache County Attorney Joseph Young on Aug. 22, attorney Roopali Desai cites the Arizona Constitution and various case law to argue that Apache County’s lawyers aren’t allowed to challenge Begay’s position in the Senate – and even if they could, Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting’s close relationship with Hale, D-St. Michaels, raises enough ethical concerns to bar him from moving forward with a case.

Hale sparked these maneuvers to challenge Begay’s residency “to remove the successful appointee in an effort to claim the seat himself,” Desai wrote. “It is simply not proper.”

Hale sent requests to Whiting and Attorney General Tom Horne shortly after Begay, D-Ganado, was appointed, calling on either official to file a quo warranto
to remove Begay from office on the grounds that he was usurping his office.
Hale could not be reached for comment.

Tom Ryan, Hale’s attorney, argued that Begay was a resident of Gilbert up until the time of his appointment to the Senate on July 31.

The Apache County Board of Supervisor’s appointment filled the Legislative District 7 seat left vacant by former Sen. Jack Jackson, Jr.

Ryan cited a portion of the Arizona Constitution that states lawmakers must have lived in the district and county they will represent for at least one year prior to taking office.

But Begay’s attorneys say that portion of the Constitution applies to elected officials, not appointees, and cite a portion of Arizona Revised Statute that states an appointee need only be a resident of the county and district at the time of the appointment.

“Senator Begay met all those criteria at the time of his appointment,” Desai wrote. “He resided in Apache County, which he was occupying, and he had registered to vote in Apache County.”

“Without question, Senator Begay considers Apache County, and more importantly the Navajo Nation, as his place of residence. According to Navajo culture, a Navajo’s relationship to the land where he or she is born is established at birth, where his or her umbilical cord is buried.”

Desai cites laws that provide a host of other reasons that Whiting’s office can’t make a case against Begay, arguing, among other things, that county attorneys can’t file a quo warranto against a statewide official; and that various doctrines bar Hale, Whiting and Apache County Supervisor Joe Shirley from challenging Begay’s residency because they failed to do so during the appointment process.

Begay’s attorney’s also point to a decades-long relationship between Hale and Shirley as evidence that the two have political motives for removing Begay from office. Hale was one of the final nominees to replace Jackson in the Senate, but supervisors chose Begay instead.

Shirley later made a motion at an Apache County Board of Supervisors meeting to seek to undue Begay’s appointment.
Those “deep personal ties” are a clear conflict of interest for Whiting, Desai argued.

“In Senator Begay’s view, it is not by coincidence that Rep. Hale, Supervisor Shirley, and now County Attorney Whiting are aligned in challenging his appointment to the Arizona Senate,” Desai wrote.

Ryan said it’s obvious Hale has political reasons for seeking to oust Begay.

“Of course he had political motive, he wanted to be the senator. Just like Mr. Begay lied about his residency so he could be senator,” Ryan said. “Everyone seeking office has political motives. The difference is Mr. Begay lied and Mr. Hale was honest.”

The letter also seeks to tie Begay to the Navajo Nation and Apache County, reminding Apache County officials of his cultural ties to the reservation as his place of birth. Desai notes that Begay’s residence on record with the Arizona Motor Vehicle Administration has been in Ganado since October 2009.

“Without question, Senator Begay considers Apache County, and more importantly the Navajo Nation, as his place of residence,” Desai wrote.

Begay’s attorneys said they would seek to recoup the senator’s legal expenses if Whiting chooses to file a case.

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