The Capitol shouldn’t hold its collective breath for a House Ethics Committee hearing on Rep. David Stringer as Ethics Chairman T.J. Shope wants to avoid that kind of “circus” and thinks he’s legally justified in doing so.
The House hired outside investigators to determine the veracity of the multitude of complaints against the beleaguered lawmaker, who stands accused of not only making racist comments, but of possessing child pornography in the 1980s, and Shope anticipates a final report from the investigator by the end of the month.
But Shope, R-Coolidge, said he does not believe Stringer is entitled to a full-blown hearing where he would be allowed to present and examine evidence, cross-examine witnesses and be represented by counsel before any potential action to expel him.
“I’d like to avoid that kind of circus if possible,” Shope told Yellow Sheet Report, sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times. .
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, attempted to trigger a vote to expel Stringer on Jan. 28, but that effort that failed as House Republicans opted instead for an investigation by the Ethics Committee first.
Bolding filed the second of two ethics complaints against Stringer the next day, but he did not entirely abandon the notion of expelling the lawmaker before the results of the investigation come in. He warned that if the Ethics Committee investigation appears to be wasting time, he may try again to expel Stringer.
“I want us to get to a place where we actually have the information. The end of the month seems like a long time when this conversation has been happening for weeks and months,” Bolding said Wednesday. “I’m still reserving judgement.”
Whether Stringer is entitled to a hearing before judgement day comes boils down to a question of whether expelling a member of the Legislature is a legal issue or a political one, Shope said. The courts have already said it’s the latter, he said.
That leaves the report to guide what happens next.
The report produced out of Ballard Spahr attorney Joe Kanefield’s investigation will cover all allegations made against Stringer, including interviews with sources who have reached out to Shope in addition to the original complaints filed by Bolding and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.
Neither Kanefield nor Stringer’s attorney in the ethics case, Carmen Chenal, commented for this story, citing the ongoing investigation.
Shope expects to release the report once it is completed.
“My intention is to be as public as possible about this when the appropriate time comes,” he said.
But the report’s findings alone may not be enough for some of his Republican colleagues who insisted the House should afford Stringer his right to due process.
Townsend won’t challenge Shope on his decision, but she was surprised by his preference to avoid a full hearing.
“I did expect a public hearing, but I also respect the chair of the committee to make that decision,” she said.
The report makes sense as a tool from which to build a hearing, she said. But if that is not Shope’s intention, Townsend said she’ll want more information on what went into it.
“I don’t know enough about this report and how they got to the report to make a comment,” she said. “I just don’t know what their goal is with the report.”
Republicans unanimously turned down Bolding’s motion to expel, with lawmakers repeatedly citing Stringer’s due process rights as they opted to recess and avoid that vote in January.
Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, made the motion to recess to avoid the expulsion vote and urged his colleagues to let the Ethics Committee take the lead.
“An ethics complaint has been filed. We have an ethics committee for a reason. And I look forward to their work and their results,” he said at the time. “We have a process, so let’s follow the process.”
And Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, passionately opposed holding the expulsion vote, harkening back to his defense of former Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Democrat from Tucson who faced similar proceedings.
“We need to look at this and put it all out there before we destroy a man,” he said. “We need to know that we are doing the right thing.”