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Arizona Rep. David Stringer cannot keep documents secret

Posted at 4:52 PM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-21 07:41:52-04

PHOENIX, AZ — Embattled Rep. David Stringer will not be allowed to submit documents in secret as the Arizona House Ethics Committee investigates complaints about his offensive comments and expunged criminal charges from the 1980s, the panel said Wednesday.

Just one of the five lawmakers on the ethics panel voted to grant Stringer's request Wednesday.

The Prescott Republican must comply with a subpoena from the committee by March 27 and sit for an interview two days later.

Ethics Committee Chairman TJ Shope declined to discuss what might happen to Stringer if he refuses to cooperate. He also declined to say what documents were demanded from Stringer, saying that information will be part of the report the committee eventually produces. Stringer did not respond to a request for comment.

The ethics probe began in January after the Phoenix New Times published a copy of a case history the newspaper obtained from the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

A Maryland judicial official told the newspaper the case was expunged, and the records should not have been released. Details of the charges against Stringer are unclear.

The case summary published by New Times, which blacked out information about victims and witnesses, lists unspecified charges but does not detail the allegations.
One entry says "charge is child pornography."

After the old charges became public, Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding of Laveen tried to expel Stringer from the House.
Republicans blocked a vote on Bolding's request by prematurely ending the floor session, saying Stringer shouldn't be kicked out of the House without an investigation or a chance for him to defend himself.

Bolding and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, filed ethics complaints.

Shope, the Coolidge Republican who leads the Ethics Committee, said Stringer was subpoenaed because he did not voluntarily comply with a request to submit documents.

His lawyer proposed that certain "sensitive" documents be provided in secret for the committee to review but not the public.

"We do want him, obviously, to cooperate," Shope said. "I was very loathe to have to sign a subpoena letter for a colleague."

Shope and the two Democrats on the ethics panel -- Reps. Kirsten Engel of Tucson and Diego Rodriguez of Phoenix -- said the panel must act transparently and ensure the public has confidence in Stringer investigation.

"Integral to having public confidence is the transparency of our deliberations and the information on which it is based," Engel said. Rep. John Allen of Scottsdale also voted to require public disclosure but did not comment. Rep. Gail Griffin, a Republican from Hereford near the state's southern border, was the only lawmaker to vote to allow Stringer to submit the documents secretly.

The ethics panel has hired the law firm Ballard Spahr to investigate the complaints against Stringer. Lawmakers on the Ethics Committee will decide whether to recommend that the full House adopt punishment that could include censure or expulsion.

Stringer came under fire twice last year for comments that were widely denounced as racist, prompting Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to call for his resignation. The lawmaker has been removed from committee assignments while he awaits the outcome of the ethics probe. He has lost his role overseeing criminal justice reform efforts in the Legislature.

Last summer, video circulated on social media of him saying "there aren't enough white kids to go around" when discussing integration in schools. Despite a backlash, he was re-elected in November.

A few weeks after the election, the New Times reported that Stringer told Arizona State University students that African Americans "don't blend in." He also said Somali immigrants don't look like "every other kid" as previous European immigrants do. He apologized for his language in a speech on the House floor in January.

"Issues that relate to race and ethnicity are very sensitive in any setting," Stringer told fellow legislators. "I believe, on reflection, I have a duty to apologize to you as my colleagues. I apologize to you. I apologize to the speaker. I apologize to our staff here at the House. And I apologize to the public."

The State Bar of Arizona last week ended an investigation into whether Stringer disclosed the expunged conviction when he applied for an Arizona law license in 2004, which he was required to do. A bar investigator said Stringer's application materials no longer existed, and that the District of Columbia did not discipline Stringer following the 1983 charges.