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Former state Rep. Shooter filing $1.3 million claim against the state

Don Shooter on the House floor Feb. 1, arguing unsuccessfully against a move to expel him.
Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer

Don Shooter on the House floor Feb. 1, arguing unsuccessfully against a move to expel him.

PHOENIX – Claiming he was railroaded from office and libeled, former state Rep. Don Shooter has filed a $1.3 million claim against the state.

In 17 pages of specifics, attorney Kraig Marton contends that House Speaker J.D. Mesnard and Gov. Doug Ducey effectively conspired to have the House vote to oust him, at least in part to thwart his efforts to investigate what Shooter believes are improper awards of state contracts. He said Shooter had been threatening to use his power as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee to issue subpoenas “to gain further insight into the irregularities in the procurement process."

All that was undermined, Marton said, first by Mesnard unilaterally – and he contends illegally – enacting a new policy on sexual harassment and then applying it retroactively to things Shooter had done previously, sometimes years before. And then the policy was used with what Marton said was an improper investigative report to form the basis to ask the House to remove Shooter even as others who faced allegations were let off the hook.

"The speaker’s objective was only to remove the burr under the governor’s saddle that Rep. Shooter had become due to his attempts to under evidence of steering, no-bid contracts and other non-competitive procurement processes,’’ Marton said. "What began as an attempt to silence an outspoken critic of corruption in state government contracts turned into an all-out character assassination.’’

Mesnard brushed aside the claim as having no merit.

“The Arizona Constitution gives the Legislature broad powers when it comes to disciplining its own members, and Mr. Shooter’s expulsion was well within that authority,’’ the speaker said in a prepared statement. “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Shooter continues to blame others for the consequences of his own actions.’’

Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato reacted in a similar fashion.

“These are desperate claims by a disgraced, ousted lawmaker,’’ he said. “We dispute them entirely.’’

The notice of claim is a legal precursor to litigation.

If the state does not respond within 60 days, Shooter is free to sue. And that opens the door to having Marton ask a whole bunch of questions to Mesnard, Ducey and other state employees.

Potentially more significant, it also could make public the full investigative report, including all the interviews and photographs which Mesnard has repeatedly refused to make public.

The House voted 56-3 on Feb. 1 to expel Shooter after an investigative report found there were multiple credible incidents of sexual harassment against other lawmakers, lobbyists and others. Aside from Shooter himself, only Reps. Noel Campbell and David Stringer, both Republicans from Prescott, voted against the move, saying a censure would have been more appropriate.

During that vote, Stringer said there was a lack of due process – arguments that Shooter is now making in his claim.

It starts with the fact that Mesnard did not follow the normal process in which complaints against a legislator go first to the chairman of the Ethics Committee. That person then decides whether to pursue the matter further.

Instead, Mesnard put together a hand-picked group of staffers to oversee the process and directed them to hire outside counsel to investigate.

Marton said that the whole thing was rigged. He said lawmakers were denied access to the full report.

“The version they were provided was intentionally devoid of material facts that are supportive and exculpatory of Mr. Shooter,’’ the attorney said. “The report was heavily redacted and members of the public were provided only a fraction of the material actually obtained and known by the appointed special counsel.’’

Shooter did not deny making many of the comments attributed to him. But Marton said that Shooter effectively was being charged under a new sexual harassment policy that Mesnard himself had adopted, one that never was subject to a House vote.

“All this was done to ensure only one possible result: the removal of Rep. Shooter to prevent him from his efforts to understand and highlight serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts,’’ Marton charges.

What makes all this legally relevant – and ripe for litigation – is Marton’s contention that the expulsion deprived Shooter of a “protected liberty interest.’’

“Not only did he lose his seat, but he was defamed at the same time,’’ the attorney wrote. “The allegations and conclusions against Shooter based on a bogus policy and standard are defamatory and were publicly disseminated in the special counsel’s report and repeated as fact in the media.’’

Marton also said the report includes “salacious information’’ which even the special counsel found was not relevant or that there was no credible evidence.

“And yet the House based its decision to expel Rep. Shooter in part on the information contained in special counsel’s report,’’ the attorney said.

Shooter’s financial demand is a required part of any notice of claim, as Arizona law says those who plan to sue must provide a dollar figure for what they will agree to settle and avoid litigation.

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