Ousted lawmaker Don Shooter is asking a judge to order the release of files from the investigation that led to his historic expulsion from the Arizona House of Representatives for sexual harassment.
Shooter is seeking the files as part of a legal battle against state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, his former colleague whose allegations of sexual harassment started the chain of events that led to his expulsion.
Kraig Marton, who represents Shooter in a pair lawsuits that he and Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, have filed against each other, filed a motion on Tuesday asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohen to order the release of all files compiled during the investigation into Shooter. House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, ordered the investigation after Ugenti-Rita and others accused the Yuma Republican of sexual harassment. The House voted 56-3 to expel Shooter in February, after the investigation found several allegations against him to be credible, including some made by Ugenti-Rita.
Ugenti-Rita sued Shooter for slander in June, and Shooter countersued a month later, alleging defamation. Shooter is seeking information from the House’s investigation that wasn’t included in an 82-page report that was released to the public. His attorneys issued subpoenas to the House for the documents in July, but Mesnard rejected them.
In the motion, Marton wrote that Shooter wants access to notes taken during interviews, the identities of the anonymous witnesses cited in the report, notes taken by attorneys Craig Morgan and Lindsay Hesketh during their investigation, and all other documents provided to the attorneys, among other information that wasn’t part of the report or released later by Mesnard in response to a public records request by the Arizona Republic and 12 News. Marton noted that the report stated that Morgan and Hesketh conducted interviews with more than 40 people.
More specifically, Marton said Ugenti-Rita, in her lawsuit against Shooter, denied an allegation that she had sexually harassed a female legislative staffer. Morgan and Hesketh interviewed that staffer as part of that information, Marton wrote, and her comments are among the files that Mesnard refuses to release.
“The documents sought have a direct bearing on these claims and defenses, and are necessary for the Shooters’ defense and prosecution of his counterclaim,” Marton wrote.
During the investigation, Shooter made several allegations against Ugenti-Rita, including that she had an extramarital affair with a staffer and that she’d made a crude joke about masturbation during a committee hearing. Investigators found no credible evidence that Ugenti-Rita had violated any House policies. The report also found that Brian Townsend, then Ugenti-Rita’s fiancée, sent unsolicited, sexually explicit messages to a House staffer without Ugenti-Rita’s knowledge. Multiple media outlets reported in July that Ugenti-Rita’s attorney, Daniel Massey, said in court that Townsend had sent nude photos of her, which are part of the investigative file.
Mesnard speculated that Shooter’s quest for the unreleased investigative files may stem from a desire “to enact some kind of retaliation against Ms. Ugenti-Rita.” He also said Shooter’s desire for the documents may result from a belief that there was a conspiracy against him.
“I don’t know. It’s all speculation. I’ve kind of given up trying to understand where he’s coming from anymore. This body took action and we’ve kind of moved on. But obviously, some of this lingers,” Mesnard said.
Marton told the Arizona Mirror that Shooter believes that portions of the investigative report that triggered his expulsion were wrong, and wants to see the information that produced those incorrect conclusions. When asked whether Shooter’s intent was to publicize negative information about Ugenti-Rita, Marton said Shooter’s intent is justice.
“We are in a lawsuit with … her, and we’re looking for all information that will help us with that lawsuit,” Marton said. “We will let the lawsuit and the courts determine who is at fault.”
House legal counsel has argued that the unreleased investigative files are protected by attorney-client privilege, and don’t have to be released because they are work product from the investigation. Marton argued in his motion that Mesnard waived both protections by voluntarily releasing the report and other select portions of the investigative file.
Mesnard said he will comply with any order from the court or a law enforcement agency to release the files. But he said he’s skeptical that the judge will issue such an order.
Ugenti-Rita’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment from the Mirror.
Shooter in February became the first member of the Arizona House of Representatives to be expelled since 1948, and only the third overall person to be ousted from the chamber. Mesnard initiated the investigation into Shooter after Ugenti-Rita publicly accused him of sexual harassment in November 2017, followed by several other women who said he’d harassed them.
In April, Shooter filed a notice of claim — a mandatory precursor to suing the state — claiming that Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration conspired with Mesnard to remove him from the House to prevent him from exposing dubious procurement practices. Shooter has not yet filed the threatened lawsuit, though he’s been legally able to do so for several months.
Shooter unsuccessfully ran for his old Senate seat earlier this year. He finished last in a three-way Republican primary for the Senate seat in Legislative District 13, which stretches from Yuma to western Maricopa County.