Judge: Reporter’s visit to Rogers’ home ‘legitimate’ business

Judge: Reporter’s visit to Rogers’ home ‘legitimate’ business

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, listens to a) judge dismiss her injunction against harassment against a reporter who rang her doorbell. (Photo from livestream screenshot)

A Flagstaff judge tossed out an injunction against harassment obtained by state Senator Wendy Rogers against a reporter investigating whether she lives in the district she represents. 

Rogers, R-Flagstaff, obtained the injunction from a judge pro tempore at the Flagstaff Justice Court on April 19 after alleging that the investigation by Arizona Capitol Times’s reporter Camryn Sanchez amounted to harassment. The order barred Sanchez from visiting Rogers’ homes and contacting the Senator.  

Judge Howard Grodman, justice of the peace for the Flagstaff Justice Court, threw out the injunction issued by Judge Pro Tempore Amy Criddle after finding that Sanchez had a legitimate reason to visit the homes and that Rogers failed to “meet the reasonable person standard.” 

Sanchez was in the process of investigating whether Rogers lives in Flagstaff or other homes she has owned outside of her district in Maricopa County. The investigation included an examination of publicly available property records that show Rogers and her husband bought a home in Chandler in January and signed a trust document that said she resides in Tempe and public records of per diem payments made to Rogers as a legislator who resides outside of Maricopa County. 

During the course of the investigation, Sanchez visited Rogers’ homes in Tempe and Chandler and spoke with a neighbor in Tempe and an electrician working on the home in Chandler, she testified. She was captured on Ring cameras at both homes ringing the doorbell. 

William Fischbach, an attorney representing Rogers, argued that the visits, coupled with incidents at the Arizona Senate in which Rogers requested Sanchez not speak to her at her desk, amounted to a pattern of harassment. 

“This case isn’t about the First Amendment; this case isn’t about whether Senator Rogers resides in her district,” Fischbach said, arguing the case was about if Sanchez’ conduct would cause a reasonable person to feel harassed and had no legitimate purpose. 

But Christopher Hennessy, an attorney representing Sanchez, disagreed. “This is absolutely about the First Amendment,” he said, arguing Rogers abused the injunction process and keeping it in place would amount to the government placing prior restraint on a reporter.  

“She’s taken something intended to be a shield and turned it into a weapon,” Hennessy said. 

Grodman, the justice of the peace, agreed, stating Sanchez’ conduct did not meet the standard of harassment. 

“The strongest point is investigative reporting is a legitimate purpose,” Grodman said.  

He acknowledged that he believes Rogers was genuinely alarmed when Sanchez showed up at her home but ultimately found the situation “would not cause a reasonable person to be annoyed or harassed.”   

Court rules that dictate when an injunction of harassment is appropriate define harassment as “conduct that is directed at a specific person and that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed, humiliated, or mentally distressed, and the conduct in fact seriously alarms, annoys, humiliates or mentally distresses the person. 

“I feel happy,” Sanchez said on the courthouse steps, noting her actions were a normal part of her job as a journalist.  

“I think a lot of reporters knock on doors,” she said. “It’s pretty normal; it’s part of our job; it’s part of due diligence.”  

After the ruling, Grodman told Rogers that she could put up “no trespassing signs” or specifically inform a reporter she did not want he or she to step on her property. While staff at the Arizona Senate had specifically asked Sanchez not to speak to Rogers at her desk on the Senate floor earlier this year, they said she could speak to the Senator in other areas, and Rogers never told Sanchez to stay away from her home. 

Grodman wasn’t swayed by Fischbach’s argument that the visit to the homes in Tempe and Chandler amounted to harassment because Rogers had previously expressed she did not want to speak to Sanchez and had never invited her to her home. 

“This doesn’t come close to trespassing,” Grodman said of Sanchez’ conduct, noting that he and Rogers have both visited many front doors uninvited while campaigning. Rogers testified that she had visited “tens of thousands” doors while campaigning.  

Fischbach, Rogers’ attorney, then notified all reporters in the room that the Senator did not want any of them visiting her property. 

Hennessy, Sanchez’ attorney, notified the court he intended to seek an order that Rogers pay attorneys fees, though Grodman indicated such an order was unlikely. He noted that he is “hesitant” to award attorney’s fees in harassment cases for fear of disincentivizing those with legitimate requests for an injunction. 

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Senate said she did not know if the Senate was paying for Rogers’ legal representation, and the Senate has not yet responded to a public records request seeking any documents related to payments made for that representation. 

Rogers was not available for comment after the Grodman’s ruling.