Chaplik becomes a target for Harris supporters
The chair of the House Ethics Committee headed the investigation, but voted against expulsion
Republican Rep. Liz Harris listens as a resolution to expel her from the Arizona House of Representatives is read on April 12. Photo by Caitlin Sievers | Arizona Mirror
Allies and supporters of former Arizona state Rep. Liz Harris, who was expelled from the chamber last week, are up in arms over the decision. But the target of much of their vitriol, Republican Rep. Joseph Chaplik, actually voted against kicking Harris out of the House.
In an uncommon show of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives voted 46-13 to expel Harris. Chaplik is one of the 13 Republicans who voted against expulsion, but he’s still facing criticism from Harris’ supporters for his role in chairing the House Ethics Committee that held a hearing March 30 on Harris’ transgressions and then recommended that she be disciplined.
Harris was expelled for lying to the Ethics Committee about how much prior knowledge she had of wild and unproven criminal allegations a woman she invited to present to the Senate and House elections committees made about multiple local and state officials. During the Feb. 23 presentation, insurance agent Jacqueline Breger accused Gov. Katie Hobbs, the mayor of Mesa and several members of the legislature, including Republican House Speaker Ben Toma, of colluding with the Sinaloa drug cartel in a fake housing deed bribery scheme.
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The Arizona Mirror reviewed purported evidence of the scheme and found none of it to be credible.
The precinct committeemen in Harris’ District 13, which covers Chandler and Gilbert, voted Monday to nominate three candidates for Harris’s replacement, and their top pick was Harris herself. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will pick which of the three nominees to appoint to the seat, and it’s unlikely that they will choose Harris.
The precinct committeemen in Chaplik’s own Legislative District 3, which covers Cave Creek, Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, in a Sunday press statement criticized the Ethics Committee saying that it should have dismissed the ethics complaint that Democratic Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton made against Harris. The committeemen also demanded that Harris be reinstated.
The committeemen slammed both the Arizona House and Senate for not investigating Breger’s claims. Some of the alleged evidence provided for the fake housing deed scheme included copies of deeds showing only that local and state officials had purchased property or refinanced loans in Arizona, or that people with similar names to some of the officials also purchased property in the state. Breger questioned the veracity of the signatures on those documents.
In his response, Chaplik wrote that the legislature should use its power to expel members in only “the most severe cases of unethical or unlawful behavior.”
“It is imperative that I address some of the recent unfounded attacks on me, the Ethics Committee, its investigation, and its report,” Chaplik wrote in an April 18 reply to the District 3 committeemen.
Chaplik said that he does not believe Harris’s transgressions rose to that level. He also reminded the committeemen that the Ethics Committee did not recommend any specific punishment for Harris, but only advised that she be disciplined and left the details up to the House.
“I found it highly concerning that House Leadership moved so quickly to an expulsion floor vote less than 24 hours after the Ethics Committee report had been released to the public,” Chaplik wrote. “I found it even more concerning that Leadership would not allow sufficient time for the elected members of the House to review and discuss the report prior to being asked to vote on the matter.”
The House voted to expel Harris April 12, a day after the Ethics Committee released its report.
That’s the reason that Chaplik said he asked Toma to stop the expulsion vote.
“It has become clear from recent public statements that House Leadership had made up their mind to expel Rep. Harris from the moment her special elections committee wrapped on February 23, 2023,” Chaplik wrote.
Neither Toma nor Chaplik immediately responded to the Arizona Mirror’s request for comment.
In their statement, the committeemen also criticized the Ethics Committee for allowing anonymously submitted screenshots of text messages among Harris, Breger and Breger’s boyfriend John Thaler, to be used as evidence in Harris’s hearing.
The claims that Breger made during the Feb. 23 presentation were based on Thaler’s investigation into the supposed housing deed conspiracy, the subject of a book by Thaler.
One of the phone numbers visible in the screenshots belongs to Harris, and Harris admitted during the Ethics Committee hearing that she was a participant in the screen-shotted conversation.
Thaler, a lawyer, sent a cease and desist letter to Chaplik on April 3, saying that the screenshots appeared to be taken from his phone and that he did not authorize their use or provide them to the committee.
“The accusation that Ms. Harris knowingly permitted false testimony is absurd and not well-taken,” Thaler wrote. “The complainant makes this statement as one of ‘fact’ having never reviewed any evidence connected with the presentation and never having reviewed the tens of thousands of pages of evidence in the possession of my office.”
Some of the alleged evidence that Thaler referred to was shared widely online. Additionally, Thaler has made similar claims in multiple lawsuits, which one Arizona District Court judge called “delusional and fantastical,” before dismissing the suit.
But the main purpose of Thaler’s letter was to demand that the Ethics Committee “cease and desist disseminating” the screenshots, and that the committee stop referring to the screenshots, that it destroy all copies in the committee’s possession and that it strike all references to the messages from the record.
Thaler threatened to file a suit against Chaplik and the committee if they refused to acquiesce to his demands.
The committee responded to Thaler via a letter sent from one of the legislature’s rules attorneys, Jennifer Holder.
In the letter, Holder told Thaler that because Harris didn’t present any evidence regarding Thaler during the Ethics Committee hearing, or call him as a witness, the committee would disregard his issues with the contents and outcome of the hearing.
In regards to his demands about the screenshots, Holder wrote “you have failed to identify any legal basis for those demands. Accordingly, the Committee will take no further action on your letter.”
In his letter to the District 3 committeemen, Chaplik wrote that he allowed the text messages to be entered into evidence because they “directly related to the context of the ethics claim.”
While he continued to receive blowback from other conservatives for his heading of the Ethics Committee’s investigation into Harris’s actions, Chaplik stood by his stance that he doesn’t believe that her behavior was appropriate, but it didn’t warrant expulsion.
“The Legislature is not a substitute for a court of law and the House Rules do not tolerate legislators who inappropriately invite individuals to use a legislative hearing as a platform for opportunistic reasons,” Chaplik wrote.
***CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that Rep. Chaplik did not recommend Harris be censured in his April 18 letter and to show that the House Ethics Committee did not recommend that Harris receive any specific type of punishment.
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