Four Arizona state representatives swept up in a sexual harassment investigation at the Capitol may hire attorneys paid for with public monies to represent them in the inquiry.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, gave Reps. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, Don Shooter, Rebecca Rios and Ray Martinez approval to hire their own individual attorneys to represent them during the House’s ongoing investigation.
Funding for the attorneys will be provided from the House budget, Mesnard said. The speaker added that he placed constraints on how much they each may spend on outside counsel, and that the funding will only be available as long as the House investigation continues. If there are other legal matters to attend to once the investigation concludes, the representatives will have to find another means to pay for those attorneys.
“All I’ve approved so far is for this investigation that’s happening, for attorneys to be provided up through that point, to pay for that,” Mesnard said.
Mesnard assembled a team of House staffers to spearhead the sexual harassment investigation. That team, in turn, hired attorney Craig Morgan to conduct interviews with witnesses, accusers and those accused of harassment. Morgan’s fees will similarly be paid for through the House budget. Lawmakers approved a $13.4 million budget for the chamber this fiscal year.
Shooter, the Yuma Republican who nine women have accused of some type of inappropriate behavior, has hired attorney Daniel Pasternak of Squire Patton Boggs. House GOP Spokesman Matt Specht said Shooter has not yet asked the chamber to cover his legal expenses.
Each legislator who received Mesnard’s approval for outside counsel has been accused of either sexual harassment or engaging in inappropriate relationships at the Capitol, except for Martinez.
Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican, was the first to accuse Shooter of sexual harassment. Shooter then accused her of having an affair with a House staffer.
Rios, a Phoenix Democrat and House minority leader, was accused by Martinez of also having an inappropriate relationship with a House staffer.
Martinez was granted funding for an attorney given the fact that he filed the ethics complaint accusing Rios, Mesnard said. Martinez has hired outside counsel, but his attorney, William Fischbach of Tiffany Bosco, is working pro bono, according to Specht.
Reps. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, and Wenona Benally, D-Window Rock, also claimed they’d been harassed by Shooter, but neither requested funding to hire an attorney, according to Mesnard.