House ethics panel rules Harris engaged in disorderly behavior 

House ethics panel rules Harris engaged in disorderly behavior 

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Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, speaks on the state House floor on March 13. On April 11, the House Ethics Committee determined that Harris engaged in disorderly behavior related to testimony she invited to a February joint elections committee. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

The House Ethics Committee determined that Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, engaged in disorderly behavior related to testimony she invited to a February joint elections committee. 

The committee released its report Tuesday morning following an ethics hearing for the complaint made toward Harris. The committee unanimously concluded Harris committed disorderly behavior, which violated a House rule and damaged the “institutional integrity of the House.” 

“The Committee does not lightly issue this Report, but the findings herein are necessary to protect the integrity of the House and House Rules,” the report said.  

Any disciplinary action taken toward Harris must be done through the full House. The committee only determined Harris violated the House rule and recommended all other House members review the report to determine what appropriate measures should be taken.  

Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, filed the complaint against Harris on March 6 after Harris invited testimony from Jacqueline Breger at the Feb. 23 joint elections hearing. Breger was representing suspended attorney John Thaler and went on to accuse private citizens and elected officials, including Speaker of the House Ben Toma, R-Peoria, of taking part in a bribery deed scheme and public corruption. 

An ethics hearing was held on March 30, where the committee reviewed anonymously leaked text messages that were screenshotted from Thaler’s phone. The messages between Thaler, Breger and Harris show the three discussing Breger’s testimony prior to and after the joint elections hearing.  

Thaler confirmed the messages were screenshotted from his phone in a cease-and-desist letter he sent to ethics Chairman Rep. Joe Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, following the hearing. He noted in the letter that he didn’t provide the committee with those messages and didn’t authorize anyone to give them to the committee. The committee’s report states the way the messages were provided was “unusual,” but Chaplik determined they were relevant. 

In his letter dated April 3, Thaler threatened to sue, demanded the committee stop disseminating the text messages, recall all copies sent to others and destroy any existing copies of the messages, including striking any reference to them in the transcript of the hearing. Thaler also defended Breger’s testimony and claimed there have been computer hacking attempts to hinder his work and destroy his office’s files. 

“Fact is neither you nor the complainant has any idea what evidence we have gathered or the story of unchecked rampant public corruption it tells,” Thaler wrote.  

House Rules Attorney Jennifer Holding responded to Thaler and informed him the House will take no further action on his letter because he failed to identify any legal basis for his demands. She also wrote in her response that Harris chose not to submit any evidence on Thaler’s behalf or request to call him as a witness.  

“Thus, to the extent that your letter purports to address the ethics complaint’s merits or present evidence relating to it, those assertations will not be considered,” Holding wrote.  

The Ethics Committee affirmed Stahl-Hamilton’s complaint that Breger made criminal allegations, which Harris denied during the Ethics hearing. That committee also rejected Harris’ testimony claiming she was not aware that Breger would present those allegations during the elections hearing.  

“Representative Harris also testified that she instructed Breger to not ‘impugn any member of the House (or Senate)’ or to bring up any ‘religious institution,’” Ethics members wrote in the report. “The fact that Representative Harris knew to make that admonition, specifically about those two items, further supports an inference that she knew of their inclusion in Breger’s presentation.” 

The committee also found Harris took steps to avoid compliance with internal House deadlines regarding disclosing Breger’s presentation to House leadership, she failed to protect the integrity of the House as the primary organizer of the elections hearing, and that she wasn’t surprised nor upset by Breger’s testimony.  

“Even if the Committee were to take at face value Representative Harris’s testimony that she was unaware of the contents of Breger’s presentation and that she had specifically instructed Breger to not impugn any legislator, Representative Harris did nothing during the Joint Hearing to address her statements,” the report said. 

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House Minority Leader Andrés Cano

House Minority Leader Andrés Cano, D-Tucson, released a statement shortly after the report became public and called for Republicans to act against Harris. House Democrats attempted to censure Harris on March 6, but Republicans voted for a substitute motion and Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, told Democrats they should file an ethics complaint against Harris rather than attempt a censure.

“The report now clearly demonstrates that Representative Harris has damaged the integrity of the institution that we all hold dear, and House Republicans need to tell us what their plan is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Cano said in the statement.