An attorney for Rep. David Stringer said he won’t release a document that the House Ethics Committee has subpoenad as part of its probe into sex crimes charges he faced in Maryland in 1983.
Carmen Chenal, who represents the Prescott Republican, said she can’t release the document because a judge ordered it sealed as part of a recent State Bar of Arizona investigation into whether Stringer properly disclosed his past legal troubles when he applied to practice law in Arizona. The document in question is a 1984 two-paragraph letter from the Washington, D.C., Bar dismissing a complaint against him.
The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday voted to reject a request by Chenal and Stringer to keep sensitive documents confidential. The vote came after the committee spent about 45 minutes in closed session conferring with its attorneys.
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.
Committee Chairman T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, set a March 27 deadline for Stringer to comply with a subpoena he issued for the documents. Unless the committee will keep the letter confidential, she said Stringer won’t turn it over.
“They want me to give them the letter. I can’t. I would be disobeying a court order,” Chenal said.
Chenal insisted that the March 12 order by Judge William O’Neil doesn’t apply only to the State Bar of Arizona, but also precludes Stringer or anyone else from releasing it to the public, including the Legislature. She said the Ethics Committee or anyone else who wants to obtain a copy of the letter would have to file a petition for special action with the courts.
O’Neil is the presiding disciplinary judge for the Arizona Supreme Court.
In an emailed statement provided by a spokesman, Shope said O’Neil’s order doesn’t in any way preclude Stringer from releasing the documents sought by the committee, and said the order only seals the State Bar’s records. And a disciplinary judge’s order has no effect on the Legislature’s internal subpoena power over Stringer, he said, which would raise conflict-of-interest issues.
Shope noted that Chenal submitted a proposed order for O’Neil to sign that explicitly stated that the documents can’t be provided to the legislature, along with numerous other entities. But O’Neil declined to include that language in the order he signed.
The Ethics Committee chairman also said Stringer’s offer to share the documents with the Ethics Committee only if they are kept confidential runs counter to his interpretation of O’Neil’s protective order.
“Given these facts, I fully expect Rep. Stringer will comply with the subpoena, appear for an interview with the Ethics Committee investigators, and not obstruct the House Ethics Committee from performing its duty,” Shope said. “Failure to respond to the subpoena would interfere with this process afforded to him by the Ethics Committee and may result in serious consequences.”
Shope also set a March 29 deadline for Stringer to submit to an in-person interview with the Ethics Committee’s counsel. Chenal said Stringer won’t provide the interview until they resolve the issues surrounding the subpoena for the documents in the case.
Chenal said the subpoena is overbroad, and she’s concerned that the interview could be, as well. She said she’s concerned that it could delve into issues that are not related to the complaints against Stringer.
“I don’t want an interview to be going on for three or four days on issues that are not misconduct, that have absolutely nothing to do with this investigation. They’re fishing. They’re fishing for something,” she said.
If Stringer doesn’t comply with one or both of the subpoenas, the Ethics Committee could recommend that the full House of Representatives expel him. It would take a two-thirds vote to expel Stringer from office.
Chenal said she won’t do anything that jeopardizes Stringer, but insisted that she’s barred from releasing the letter. The House would have a “real big problem” if it expelled Stringer for refusing to provide the letter, she said.
“If they want to kick him out, they’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s legal or illegal. They’re going to do it. Hopefully, they do the right thing and just dismiss this. It’s been dismissed twice already,” Chenal said, referring to the investigations by the Arizona and D.C. bars.
The Maryland courts expunged Stringer’s case in 1990, according to the New Times. 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.
Chenal told the Mirror that, although the 1983 exonerates Stringer, it contains language that could be distorted or taken out of context to make Stringer look bad.
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.