Originally Published: July 13, 2018 6 a.m.
PHOENIX — An ousted state lawmaker may be able to get documents from a sexual harassment investigation that House Speaker J.D. Mesnard has so far refused to make public.
Kraig Marton, attorney for Don Shooter, is demanding that Craig Morgan, the attorney hired by Mesnard to investigate allegations of sexual harassment, turn over not just the report he prepared on various allegations but also all of his notes, tapes, memos and other information that led to what was released in the report.
Marton also wants access to all documents that were provided to Morgan in preparing the report. And he wants all drafts.
That last piece could prove crucial as Shooter contends the final report — the one provided to other lawmakers and the media — left out information that the former Republican representative from Yuma believes could have made a difference in the 56-3 vote by his colleagues to expel him.
But Shooter and his attorney aren’t demanding the documents in connection with his $1.3 million claim against the state in that case.
Instead, they’re using the fact that Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who Morgan’s investigative report says was a victim of Shooter’s harassment, has filed her own civil lawsuit accusing him of slander, libel, battery and negligence. Shooter, in turn, has filed a counterclaim charging Ugenti-Rita with defamation.
That litigation opens the door for Shooter’s attorney to subpoena records he believes are relevant to the issue.
Marton, on behalf of Shooter, is not stopping with going after the full the investigative report and its supporting material.
He also has issued several other subpoenas, including one to the state Department of Administration demanding information about various contracts the state has issued and any communications by top aides to Gov. Doug Ducey to the agency about those deals. That goes to Shooter’s claim that he was targeted because, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he was questioning whether some contracts were improperly awarded.
Shooter, seeking to reenter politics by running for the state Senate this year, said that the documents will shed a new light on the investigation that resulted in his ouster.
“I think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of information that will damage the credibility of my accuser and, in addition, will bolster my view of the facts,’’ he said.
“It will also show that Speaker Mesnard modified the report and that the (House) members were given only a partial and modified version,’’ Shooter said. “He removed exculpatory evidence and took out derogatory evidence about my accusers.’’
An aide to Mesnard said he would not comment at this time.
Shooter was expelled after the investigative report, prepared by Morgan, found “credible evidence’’ that the Yuma lawmaker violated House policy against sexual harassment.
Mesnard originally had sought only censure. But he pushed for expulsion after Shooter sent a letter to colleagues asking they delay any action while they consider there also are credible charges of harassment that could be brought against Ugenti-Rita.
All that goes to what else the investigator found — things that were not provided to other lawmakers and things that Mesnard has refused to disclose.
That investigative report mentions allegations, which included “unsolicited, sexually explicit communications’’ being sent to someone who is believed to be a female former staffer.
Morgan describes these are “egregious and potentially unlawful acts.’’ But the investigator said that Brian Townsend, a former House staffer who was dating Ugenti-Rita, accepted sole responsibility for sending out what are believed to be naked photos.
Shooter believes the full details — and the pictures — were in early versions of the report but excised before other lawmakers got to see them.
He did not dispute some of the charges made against him in the report, including comments made to other lawmakers, lobbyists and outsiders. But Shooter always has contended his actions were largely harmless — and in some cases actually less serious than things that others, including Ugenti-Rita, are alleged to have done.
Mesnard has refused to release anything but the final version of the report.
In a prepared statement, he said what’s left includes those sexually explicit communications mentioned in the report, saying their release would “serve no public interest and would only satisfy the salacious curiosity of the media and others.’’
Other materials the speaker refused to disclose include the notes of the attorney. He said these are exempt from public records laws and “would jeopardize the House’s legal standing in potential lawsuits if released.’’
But even Mesnard acknowledged what he can keep confidential may be limited, saying he would release the records only on a subpoena or court order.
Shooter said he’s prepared for Mesnard to be the one to contest the subpoena of Morgan’s notes and other information based on there being an attorney-client relationship. But the former lawmaker said that holds no water, as the cost of the inquiry was not borne by Mesnard personally.
“My position is that the taxpayers of state of Arizona are the client and they deserve to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’’ he said.