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Senate lawyer seeks Bundgaard’s expulsion

Sen. Scott Budgaard (right) and his attorney, Andre Merrett, listen to testimony during an Jan. 5 ethics hearing to determine if the senator will be punished for conduct reflecting poorly on the Senate. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arguing that Sen. Scott Bundgaard exercised poor judgment and put the lives of several people in harm’s way, one of the lawyers hired by the Senate Ethics Committee is seeking the gravest penalty for breaching ethical rules — expulsion from the Legislature.

In his opening statement in the Jan. 5 ethics hearing, Attorney Michael Liburdi said Bundgaard assaulted his then-girlfriend, Aubry Ballard, and then pulled over on the wrong side of the freeway.

In doing so, Bundgaard put Ballard in danger of being struck by oncoming traffic. He similarly placed responding law enforcement officers in danger, Liburdi added.

In fact, the case against Bundgaard was partly construed to show how he might have recklessly endangered Ballard.

At one point, the Senate’s lawyers showed photos of where Bundgaard’s car was supposedly situated that night — in the median of the freeway but very nearly in the HOV lane.

One photo, which used a police car as model, had its front doors flung open — to illustrate that a passenger could have been quite vulnerable to oncoming traffic in the HOV lane.

Later during the ethics trial, a responding police officer said he was almost hit by a car essentially because Bundgaard’s car was parked on the wrong side of the freeway.

Additionally, Liburdi said committee members will hear testimony that Bundgaard invoked legislative immunity the night of Feb. 25, and then lied about it several times later.

The lawyer said the only fitting recommendation for Bundgaard is removing from the Legislature.

Meanwhile, Bundgaard’s lawyer, Andre Merrett, said the senator clearly erred by participating in the fight between him and Ballard.

He added that the dispute should have been in private — not in public.

But he pleaded to the committee to consider Bundgaard’s mental state, which would explain his actions that night.

Bundgaard’s testimony will show he didn’t intentionally or recklessly harm Ballard, Merrett said.

Finally, he asked the committee to consider the evidence impartially.

Bundgaard’s fate now rests with five senators who will weigh the evidence against him and decide whether it satisfied the highest standard of proof for civil cases — clear and convincing evidence.

If the committee’s members agree with their lawyers, they will recommend Bundgaard’s removal to the full Senate.

But no matter the outcome, it is Bundgaard’s political career that will suffer the most.

Many agree his political career has been gravely damaged, putting his electability into question. It’s unclear whether he will seek reelection to the Senate in November.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Phoenix Democrat who filed the ethics complaint against Bundgaard, said: “If that guy runs for reelection, there’s a campaign photo waiting to happen – him sitting between his two attorneys.”

The ethics 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 from which both he and Ballard emerged bruised and battered.

A misdemeanor assault charge was dropped in a plea deal. Under a plea agreement with Phoenix prosecutors, Bundgaard’s endangerment charge will also be dismissed if he completes one year of counseling through a domestic-violence diversion program.

Ballard was arrested that night, but never charged. Bundgaard was not arrested that night because police say he 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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