The attorney for embattled state Rep. David Stringer said Thursday the Ethics Committee can have a document it is demanding – if it goes to court.
Carmen Chenal told Capitol Media Services the letter at issue, from the District of Columbia Bar Association, was provided to her only on the condition that its contents be kept confidential according to that organization’s rules. That letter, she said, declared that the Bar had looked into the 1983 arrest of the Prescott Republican on sex charges — one of which charged possession of child pornography — and concluded that there was no “moral turpitude” and nothing in the incident that made him unfit to practice law.
And Chenal said she was able to furnish it to the State Bar of Arizona, doing its own probe of Stringer earlier this year, only after Judge William O’Neil, the presiding disciplinary judge for Arizona, issued a protective order.
“Our hands are tied,” she said.
Her comments come less than 24 hours after the Ethics Committee voted to demand the letter with no promise of confidentiality.
But Chenal said even before that vote she told Joe Kanefield, the attorney hired by the panel, that all he needs to do is obtain a court order. And Chenal said if that order also ends up saying that the document can be released to everyone — and not just the committee — she would not appeal.
That’s not to say that Chenal wants everything in the letter out in public.
She said the document “includes references to sensitive personal matters that have since been expunged from court records in Maryland,” telling Capitol Media Services there are “a few words (in it) that can be misinterpreted.”
But Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who chairs the Ethics Committee, insisted the panel should not have to go to court to get the document — or have to agree not to disclose its contents.
“In no way does Judge O’Neil’s limited order tie the hands of Rep. Stringer or require him to keep documents secret,” he said in a prepared statement. And Shope even questioned whether a judge has any effect on a subpoena issued by the Legislature.
“If it did, it would raise serious separation of powers concerns,” he said.
This isn’t the only legal issue surrounding the investigation by the Ethics Committee into charges filed against him by two of his colleagues. Chenal said a subpoena she received just this past Monday is “way overbroad,” seeking items unrelated to the charges.
One of those charges , advanced by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, came after public disclosure of the 1983 arrest in Baltimore. Stringer has not disputed the arrest but said that he was never convicted of anything.
But there was some kind of court action against him.
Chenal acknowledged he was required to do some community service but said that the child pornography charge was dismissed because there was no evidence presented that he had such materials.
“It was an allegation,” she said.
And the court records were ordered expunged after that community service was completed.
Chenal said the fact that the D.C. Bar investigated and allowed him to continue to practice law proves there wasn’t much behind the charges. And she said the 1984 letter from the D.C. Bar – the one being argued about – said there was no “moral turpitude” involved in the incident.
“It’s got to say something to you,” Chenal said.
“This guy didn’t go out and violate a woman,” she said. “Do you think that a bar would have allowed him to practice law if there was anything bad?”
Townsend, however, has said that the arrest – and whatever happened in court – raises questions of whether Stringer is fit to be a legislator.
The second charge by Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, stems from comments Stringer made, both in Prescott and to some students at Arizona State University, about immigration, race and assimilation. Bolding said those comments also bear on his fitness.
Chenal said she’s not particularly worried about the second charge, saying anything Stringer said is protected by the right of free speech. She said the focus is more likely to be on the 1983 arrest.
The spat over the letter from the D.C. bar is unlikely to be the only legal fight as the Ethics Committee conducts its investigation.
Chenal said a subpoena she received this past Monday is “overly broad,” asking for things not relevant to the two charges under investigation.
For example, she said, the committee wants all materials involved in any application Stringer has submitted for any professional license. It also asks for any applications he ever filled out to be a teacher.
“Give me a break,” she said.
“What does that have to do with the complaint?” Chenal continued. “How is it relevant?” she asked.
Shope defended the request. He told Capitol Media Services the panel is empowered to look at both the specific complaints “as well as other items that come before (the committee) in the process of the investigation.”
And he brushed aside questions of whether that amounts to a fishing expedition.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “But I can understand her sentiment on that.”
But Chenal said, legal questions aside, there’s a more practical issue.
“They’re asking me for records I don’t have,” she said, with no reason to believe that Stringer has kept any applications he ever submitted.