A Tucson legislator is facing four counts of misdemeanor domestic violence stemming from a Feb. 24 physical altercation with an ex-girlfriend, even though his attorney says the Arizona Constitution prevents the lawmaker from being charged.
However, a Phoenix attorney says Rep. Daniel Patterson has no such protections under the Constitution.
Patterson, D-Tucson, pleaded not guilty this morning to the domestic violence charges in Tucson Municipal Court. On Feb. 24, he and Georgette Escobar got into a fight after he asked her to move out of his house. Police were called to the scene, but neither Patterson nor Escobar was charged and no one was arrested.
Though municipal workers reported seeing Patterson throw Escobar to the ground during the incident, the lawmaker has denied harming her. However, he said that she hit him dozens of times that day.
Patterson, who could not be reached for comment today, has said Escobar is attempting to blackmail him. He has also accused her of having “serious mental health problems” and having “a violent criminal past” that includes a conviction for domestic violence in California.
On March 2, Patterson was served with orders of protection from both Escobar and his ex-wife, who two years ago accused him of domestic violence. No charges were ever filed.
Patterson’s attorney, Joe St. Louis, said the legislative immunity clause in the Arizona Constitution bars city prosecutors from pursuing charges against his client.
“You either have it or you don’t,” he said. “It’s not like your right to remain silent, where you have to invoke it.”
The Constitution says that lawmakers “shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, and they shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the Legislature.”
But Phoenix attorney Dan Barr says St. Louis’ interpretation of the immunity clause is incorrect.
“He’s wrong,” Barr said.
The immunity clause has its roots in similar language in the U.S. Constitution, which in turn borrowed language from English law that was enacted in 1770. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled – once in 1908 and again in 1934 – that the federal legislative immunity applies only to an arrest in a civil suit.
“A member of the Legislature doesn’t have immunity from committing crimes during the legislative session. That’s crazy,” Barr said.
Escobar has not been charged in relation to the incident with Patterson. However, Tucson Weekly reported March 7 that she is currently in a La Paz County jail facing drug charges. St. Louis told Arizona Capitol Times that she was arrested for possession of methamphetamines.
Patterson’s next court appearance will be March 15, at which time St. Louis said he will ask for the charges to be dismissed.
“We fully expect they’re going to be dismissed and he’ll be acquitted of all charges,” St. Louis said.