Arizona’s attorney general has declined to take legal action to remove one of the state’s newest senators from office, citing a lack in clarity of state laws dictating appointments to office.
Solicitor General Rob Ellman, who reviewed the matter for more than a month, wrote that the requirements for office outlined in the Arizona Constitution and state statutes regarding appointments “are ambiguous if not contradictory,” and would require further investigation to discover if Sen. Carlyle Begay is in fact usurping his office.
The attorney general is only compelled to pursue a quo warranto action to remove lawmakers from office when “undisputed facts show as a matter of law” that a violation has occurred, Ellman wrote.
“Even if the facts related to residency were undisputed, the legal validity of Mr. Begay’s appointment to the Arizona Senate would remain unclear without definitive judicial construction of these provisions,” Ellman wrote to Tom Ryan, attorney for Rep. Albert Hale.
Ellman also wrote that the Attorney General’s Office was declining to proceed as Ryan had requested because the case can still be pursued privately by Ryan and his client.
Hale, D-St. Michaels, has argued that Begay did not meet minimum requirements outlined in the Arizona Constitution that state lawmakers must have lived in the county and district they will represent for one year before taking office.
Ryan requested the Attorney General’s Office or the Apache County Attorney’s Office seek to remove Begay from office mere hours after the senator was sworn in on Aug. 6.
Prior to his appointment by the Apache County Board of Supervisors in July, Begay, who now represents much of northern Arizona in Legislative District 7, lived in Gilbert for seven years, according to claims on resumes and applications by Begay.
Attorneys for Begay say that the one-year residency requirement doesn’t apply to appointed lawmakers, only those elected to office.
Ryan said he will meet with Hale to determine if he still wishes to go to court to oust Begay – and if that were the case, he’s confident of the outcome.
“It is hard to believe that our Supreme Court is going to uphold that for the purposes of appointment, there is no need to meet the minimal requirements of serving in the state senate,” Ryan said. “I just don’t think that’ll be the standard. Obviously Mr. Begay and his counsel would disagree.”
Andy Gordon, Begay’s attorney, was not immediately available for comment.
The decision not to proceed in court “in no way constitutes a judgment regarding the merits of the respective positions asserted by Mr. Hale and Mr. Begay,’ Ellman wrote.