Judge dismisses federal claims in ousted lawmaker’s lawsuit

Judge dismisses federal claims in ousted lawmaker’s lawsuit

Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

A federal judge late Friday threw out charges by former state Rep. Don Shooter that his civil rights were violated by an investigation that resulted in his ouster last year from the state House.

Judge Dominic Lanza said Shooter’s claim is based on his claim that former House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Kirk Adams, the former chief of staff to Gov. Doug Ducey, acted improperly, leading to his expulsion. But the problem with that, the judge said, is there is no clearly settled law that lawmakers in fact have a right to ask a federal court to intercede in matters involving their removal.

What that also means, said Lanza, is that Mesnard and Adams are entitled to qualified immunity for any actions they say they took in their official capacity.

The judge also took a slap at former Attorney General Tom Horne, who is representing Shooter.

Don Shooter
Don Shooter

Lanza said he specifically asked Horne during a hearing earlier this week for any actual legal precedent showing that the proceedings used by the House in ousting Shooter − in this case, requiring a two-thirds vote − were unconstitutional. The judge said Horne did not provide an answer but instead urged the court to consider “the facts” alleged in the complaint.

“This is not how qualified immunity works,” Lanza wrote.

Friday’s ruling does not take either Mesnard, now a state senator, or Adams, who quit state government last December, off the legal hook.

Lanza dealt only with the federal civil rights claim over which he has jurisdiction. He said the other claims made by Shooter, including wrongful termination, defamation and false light invasion of privacy, need to be resolved in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The former Yuma lawmaker was expelled last year following a 56-3 vote of the House following release of a report addressing allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.

Shooter, in his lawsuit, contends that expulsion was the result of a “conspiracy” involving Adams, who was still working for Ducey at the time, Mesnard and others.

Shooter, who was chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, charged that his ouster was engineered to keep him from exposing the state’s use of no-bid contracts. And he said the allegations against him, largely by then-state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, were part of a plan to discredit him.

He also argued that the procedures used against him, set up by Mesnard, did not follow typical House policy, with no hearings before the Ethics Committee and no right for him to present his own witnesses or confront his accusers.

Horne said Friday’s ruling does not undermine Shooter’s claims, saying he believes the former lawmaker will win in Superior Court.