The Arizona Supreme Court has clarified that an order sealing a document related to Rep. David Stringer’s arrest on sex crime charges in the early 1980s only applies to those who obtained the document from the State Bar of Arizona, but doesn’t bar Stringer from complying with a legislative subpoena if he has his own copy of the letter.
That distinction may be more complicated than it seems. Stringer’s attorney, Carmen Chenal, obtained a copy of the 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.
Chenal turned the letter over to the Arizona Bar, according to emails from the Arizona Bar’s recently concluded investigation. Chenal said she requested the letter exclusively for the purpose of providing it to the Arizona Bar for its investigation, and neither she nor Stringer had a copy of the letter prior to the Arizona Bar’s probe.
Arizona Supreme Court spokesman Aaron Nash said if Stringer obtained the letter from the D.C. Bar, he could provide it to someone else. But Nash said he couldn’t definitively say whether the protective order signed earlier this month by William O’Neil, the presiding disciplinary judge for the Arizona Supreme Court, would preclude Stringer from turning over the letter to the Ethics Committee given the circumstances.
“[T]his is beyond rule and procedure and into practice. Stringer and his attorney will have to make that call,” Nash said.
Chenal said that means the protective order still prohibits her and Stringer from giving the letter to the Ethics Committee.
“That D.C. letter… that’s confidential. They gave it to me because Stringer asked them to give it to me so I could give it to the (Arizona) Bar,” Chenal said. “It doesn’t matter whether it went directly to the Arizona State Bar or whether it went from the D.C. Bar through me to the Arizona State Bar, because we have that protective order.”
Chenal also said that the D.C. Bar intended for the letter to be kept confidential. Emails between Chenal and the D.C. Bar suggest that the Bar provided the letter on the condition of confidentiality. And the Arizona Bar said when it dismissed its investigation into Stringer that the protective order was sought at the D.C. Bar’s request, though Chenal has said it was she and Stringer who wanted the order blocking the letter from public release.
Chenal requested the protective order during the Bar investigation, arguing that it should be shielded from public view because language from the two-paragraph letter could be distorted or taken out of context and used to unfairly attack Stringer.
Under the terms of the protective order, Stringer can petition to court to unseal the letter. Likewise, O’Neil’s order allows any party “aggrieved by” the protective order to file a special action with the court to access the letter, which appears to give the House of Representatives the ability to ask the court to lift the protective order.
Unless the Ethics Committee will keep the letter confidential, Chenal said Stringer will not provide it. However, the committee this week rejected Stringer’s request to keep documents private, and set a deadline of March 27 for him to comply with the subpoena.`
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.
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.