The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday rejected a request from embattled Rep. David Stringer to keep sensitive documents secret as it investigates sex crime charges he faced in Maryland in the early 1980s.
Four of the committee’s five members voted to keep the documents open to the public, with only Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, supporting the Prescott Republican’s request. The vote came after the committee spent more than 45 minutes conferring with its attorneys in an executive session that was closed to the public.
Stringer now has one week to turn over the documents. The committee set a deadline of March 27 to comply with its subpoena.
The documents relate to revelations by the Phoenix New Times that Stringer faced sex crimes charges in 1983, including child pornography. Documents obtained by the New Times don’t describe the disposition of that charge, but show that the court ordered five years of probation and sent Stringer to a treatment program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that specialized in sexual disorders as a result of two unnamed sex offenses.
Reps. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, filed ethics complaints against him regarding the Maryland case, and Bolding’s complaint included a series of racist comments by Stringer that became public last year.
The committee could recommend expulsion for Stringer, which would require a two-thirds vote of the 60-member House of Representatives.
Neither Stringer nor his attorney, Carmen Chenal, responded to requests for comment.
As part of its investigation, the Ethics Committee has requested several documents regarding the Maryland case, some of which Stringer’s attorney characterized as sensitive in nature, according to Rep. T.J. Shope, who chairs the committee.
Shope, R-Coolidge, said all members of the House of Representatives should have the opportunity to review the documents if the committee makes a recommendation that they’ll have to vote on. He said the public should be able to see the documents, as well. The committee will make those documents available once it completes its report on Stringer.
“I have to agree with my colleagues that the issues that are before us warrant following through on a subpoena that I was loath to have to sign,” Shope said as he cast his vote.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said if the committee is going to consider documents involving the complaint against Stringer, those documents should be made public.
“Of utmost importance is public confidence in what we do, and I feel that integral to having public confidence is the transparency of our deliberations and the information upon which it’s based,” Engel said.
Shope also signed a subpoena ordering Stringer to submit to an interview with the committee’s outside counsel. The deadline for that interview is March 29. Shope said he signed the subpoenas after Stringer refused to grant the committee’s requests for the documents and an interview.
Shope was hesitant to say what penalties Stringer could face if he ignores the subpoena and fails to turn over the documents or submit for an interview. He said Stringer could be found in contempt of the Legislature, which he described as an “extreme hypothetical,” and wouldn’t say what consequences Stringer could face in such a scenario.
“I can’t speak for the other four members of this committee who, at some point, may in fact have to make a recommendation,” Shope said after the meeting.
Attorneys Roy Herrera and Joseph Kanefield, of the law firm Ballard Spahr, whom the committee has retained for its investigation of Stringer, also declined to comment after the hearing on what consequences the lawmaker could face if he’s found in contempt.
The committee’s vote comes about one week after the State Bar of Arizona dismissed a complaint against Stringer alleging that he didn’t properly disclose his past legal issues when he applied for his license to practice law in Arizona. As part of that investigation, Chenal and Stringer obtained a protective order preventing the Bar from releasing a 1984 letter from the Washington, D.C., Bar regarding its dismissal of an earlier complaint against him regarding the Maryland case.
Chenal told the Mirror at the time that Stringer would be willing to provide that letter to the Ethics Committee on the condition that it be kept confidential. Shope wouldn’t comment on whether the documents the committee sought from Stringer includes that 1984 letter.