***UPDATE: A day after this article was published, the Arizona Supreme Court said it was possible that Stringer could release the document on his own, if his copy was not obtained from the State Bar of Arizona. Click here to read more.
A judge’s order prohibits Rep. David Stringer from turning over a document sought by the House Ethics Committee in its investigation into sex crime charges he faced in Maryland the early 1980s, according to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The revelation could be a substantial obstacle as the committee seeks to enforce a subpoena ordering Stringer to turn over documents related to the Maryland case by March 27.
William O’Neil, the presiding disciplinary judge for the Arizona Supreme Court, signed a protective order earlier this month barring the release of a 1984 letter from the Washington, D.C., Bar, dismissing a complaint regarding charges that were filed against Stringer the year before, while he was living in Baltimore.
Stringer’s attorney sought the order during a State Bar of Arizona investigation into whether the Prescott Republican properly disclosed his past legal issues when he applied to practice law in Arizona.
O’Neil said an order he signed barring the release of the letter applies not just to the State Bar of Arizona, but to Stringer and other parties involved involved in the investigation, according to Supreme Court spokesman Aaron Nash. Nash said O’Neil cited Arizona Supreme Court Rule 70, which pertains to records from Bar disciplinary proceedings.
The State Bar of Arizona dismissed its complaint against Stringer on March 14.
Stringer’s attorney, Carmen Chenal, requested the protective order during the Bar investigation, arguing that language from the two-paragraph letter could be distorted or taken out of context and used to unfairly attack Stringer.
Nash said Stringer could ask O’Neil to lift the protective order so he could provide the letter to the House Ethics Committee.
The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday voted 4-1 to reject a request by Stringer to keep documents it had requested regarding the Maryland case private. The vote came after the committee spent about 45 minutes in closed session conferring with its attorneys.
Chenal has argued that Stringer is barred from providing the letter by O’Neil’s order. Committee Chairman T.J. Shope disputed that claim, arguing that the order applies only to the State Bar, and that Stringer is able to turn over the letter.
Chenal could not be immediately reached for comment regarding Nash’s statement about O’Neil’s order. On Thursday morning, she told the Mirror, “They want me to give them the letter. I can’t. I would be disobeying a court order.”
The committee is investigating two complaints against Stringer – one that only pertains to the sex crimes case that the Phoenix New Times revealed in a bombshell article in January, and another involving both the Maryland case and a series of racist comments Stringer made last year.
Stringer faces possible expulsion from the Arizona House of Representatives. If the Ethics Committee recommends such a move, it would require at least 40 of the House’s 60 members to expel him.
Prior to Nash’s comment, Shope told the Mirror that failure to respond to his subpoena “may result in serious consequences.”
It’s unclear what effect O’Neil’s mandate will have on the Ethics Committee’s proceedings or on the possibility of Stringer’s expulsion from the House.
Shope said he couldn’t speak to Nash’s statement that the protective order applied to Stringer.
The Maryland courts expunged Stringer’s case in 1990, according to the Phoenix New Times, which first revealed the charges in a bombshell story in January. That expungement leaves the Ethics Committee with few, if any, records it can review to determine what happened in Stringer’s 1983 case, outside of the dismissal letter from the D.C. Bar. While Shope suggested during Wednesday’s hearing that the committee is seeking multiple documents from Stringer, Chenal said the D.C. Bar dismissal letter is the only document at issue and that it’s a “bold-faced lie” to say there are others.
Court records obtained by the New Times show that Stringer faced five sex crimes charges in 1983, including child pornography. The court records don’t show a disposition for that charge, but show that the court gave him five years of probation and ordered him into a treatment program for sexual disorders at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for two other, undescribed charges.
Stringer has denied possessing child pornography. He and Chenal say he took a plea of “probation before judgment,” which means he was not found guilty of a crime.