Stringer can release subpoenaed document, but says he won’t

By: - March 25, 2019 2:04 pm

Rep. David Stringer. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Embattled state Rep. David Stringer has the authority to ask the District of Columbia Bar and the Arizona Supreme Court to waive confidentiality for a document sought by the House of Representatives Ethics Investigation into sex crimes charges he faced in Maryland in 1983.

Ethics Committee Chairman T.J. Shope issued a subpoena demanding that Stringer turn over documents related to the D.C. Bar’s investigation. Stringer’s attorney, Carmen Chenal, said the only document in existence is a 1984 letter dismissing the Bar’s investigation.

Stringer, a Prescott Republican, has refused to provide the document to the committee without a commitment that it will be kept confidential. Chenal said portions of the two-paragraph letter could be distorted or taken out of context, and that Stringer therefore won’t provide it to the committee without an assurance of confidentiality. She also claims that D.C. Bar confidentiality rules and a protective order by the Arizona Supreme Court’s presiding disciplinary judge prohibits its release as well.

But if Stringer wants to release the letter publicly, the D.C. Bar won’t be an obstacle.

Julia Porter, deputy disciplinary counsel at the D.C. Bar, said investigations into attorneys are kept confidential if they result in dismissal or diversion. The Bar only publicly releases information if it files charges against or formally admonishes an attorney.

However, attorneys who are the subject of investigations can file written waivers with the D.C. Bar asking it to lift confidentiality, which would permit the release of documents related to their cases, Porter said. She said a lawyer who is subject to a D.C. Bar investigation is entitled to everything in the Bar’s file, except for internal work product.

“The confidentiality provisions are there for the protection of the lawyer under investigation,” Porter said.

Porter could not comment specifically about Stringer’s case.

Shope, R-Coolidge, ordered Stringer to provide the document to the committee by Wednesday. He also ordered Stringer to submit to an interview with the committee’s counsel by Friday.

Chenal and Stringer provided the 1984 dismissal letter to the State Bar of Arizona as part of its recently dismissed investigation into whether Stringer properly disclosed his past legal issues when he applied to practice law in Arizona. The Arizona Bar’s investigative file would normally be public record for six months. But at Stringer and Chenal’s request, Judge William O’Neil, the Arizona Supreme Court’s presiding disciplinary judge, issued a protective order barring the letter from public release.

Arizona Supreme Court spokesman Aaron Nash said O’Neil’s order only prohibits the release of the letter from the Arizona Bar’s file, meaning Stringer could release it if he obtained it from another source.

Chenal disputes that, describing O’Neil’s order as a blanket prohibition on the release of the letter.

Either way, Nash told the Mirror last week that Stringer could petition O’Neil to lift the protective order.

Arizona Bar spokesman Rick DeBruhl wouldn’t comment directly on whether Stringer had the power to get O’Neil’s order lifted, but he emphasized that the document was sealed specifically at Stringer’s request.

Nonetheless, Chenal said Stringer has no intention of making the letter public, and reiterated concerns that portions could be taken out of context and used against Stringer. Chenal specifically said she’s concerned about the Phoenix New Times, which broke the news about Stringer’s 1983 legal troubles in January.

“I’m not going to spend endless hours trying to get it exposed to the public when… we don’t want it exposed to the public,” Chenal said.

If Shope and the Ethics Committee want to petition O’Neil to release the D.C. Bar letter, Chenal said she and Stringer won’t stand in the way, as long as the committee will keep it confidential.

The Ethics Committee has pledged to make documents from its probe into Stringer public. In 4-1 vote last week, the committee rejected Stringer’s request to keep any documents he turns over private.

Shope has issued a subpoena for the documents. It’s unclear what the committee will do if Stringer refuses to comply. One option available to the committee is the extreme move of recommending that Stringer be expelled from the Arizona House of Representatives. To expel a member, it takes a two-thirds of the chamber’s 60 members.

Two lawmakers, Reps. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, and Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, have filed ethics complaints against Stringer. Townsend’s complaint deals solely with the Maryland case, while Bolding’s complaint includes both the sex crimes charges and a series of racist comments Stringer has made that became public.

Court records obtained by the New Times show that Stringer faced five sex crimes charges while living in Baltimore 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.

The New Times reported that Maryland expunged Stringer’s case in 1983, which leaves few documents available for the Ethics Committee or anyone else. In an email to Chenal during the State Bar of Arizona investigation, Porter confirmed that the 1984 dismissal letter is the only document the D.C. Bar has related to its investigation of Stringer, and that other pertinent documents have been destroyed.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”