Shooter seeks $1.3M pay­out af­ter re­moval

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Dustin Gar­diner

Don Shooter, who was ousted from of­fice af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that he sex­u­ally ha­rassed women over many years, filed a pre­cur­sor to a law­suit Mon­day, say­ing the process used to oust him from the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was rigged.

Shooter claims that he was de­nied due process, and that sex­ual-mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing an­other

law­maker, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, were not given equal scru­tiny. Ugen­tiRita was the first woman to pub­licly ac­cuse Shooter of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior.

Shooter asks for $1.3 mil­lion to set­tle his case, ac­cord­ing to his no­tice of claim, which names as de­fen­dants Gov. Doug Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams, and House Speaker J.D. Mes­nard, RChan­dler.

The 17-page claim, ob­tained by The

Ari­zona Repub­lic, also calls for state of­fi­cials to give Shooter ac­cess to all ev­i­dence com­piled by in­ves­ti­ga­tors so he can make his own case in court.

“Hav­ing lost his job and been branded na­tion­ally as a sex­ual preda­tor, his great­est fear is that for all of this, he may not have made a dent in the cor­rupt cul­ture at the Capi­tol, and, in fact his ex­pul­sion is now a cau­tion­ary tale that will keep oth­ers silent,” his claim states.

“The com­pen­sa­tion Mr. Shooter seeks is for the ev­i­dence of ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­tions by mem­bers of the Gover­nor’s Of­fice, in co­or­di­na­tion with his prime ac­cuser Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and the Speaker of the House Ja­van (J.D.) Mes­nard, be made pub­lic, in­clud­ing the cir­cum­stances and mo­ti­va­tions be­hind the multi-mil­lion dol­lar tech­nol­ogy, no-bid con­tracts.”

While Shooter seeks a $1.3 mil­lion set­tle­ment, his claim also states that, rather than set­tling, he would pre­fer to pub­licly ar­gue his case in court and that all in­ves­ti­ga­tion records be re­leased.

Shooter’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer came to an end in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter the GOP-con­trolled cham­ber voted to im­me­di­ately re­move him on a vote of 56-3.

The vote capped a three-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­ducted by House staff and out­side at­tor­neys, who con­cluded that there was “cred­i­ble ev­i­dence” that Shooter vi­o­lated House pol­icy deal­ing with ha­rass­ment, dis­crim­i­na­tion and a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment through his be­hav­ior to­ward mul­ti­ple women.

In the fil­ing, Shooter re­it­er­ates his claim that the Gover­nor’s Of­fice, through Adams, wanted him gone af­ter he threat­ened to is­sue sub­poe­nas tied to state tech­nol­ogy con­tracts he found ques­tion­able.

Dur­ing that Nov. 2 meet­ing, Shooter told Adams of “ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the pro­cure­ment process” and sus­pi­cious state pro­cure­ment pro­cesses, the claim states. The no­tice of claim says Shooter told Adams that he pre­ferred that the Gover­nor’s Of­fice “clean up their own house” rather than do­ing so through a more pub­lic process.

Ducey’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has pre­vi­ously con­firmed that Shooter threat­ened to is­sue sub­poe­nas on the con­tracts, but has ve­he­mently de­nied the al­le­ga­tions of ques­tion­able pro­cure­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said Mon­day of Shooter’s no­tice of claim, “Th­ese are des­per­ate claims by a dis­graced, ousted law­maker, and we dis­pute them en­tirely.”

Five days af­ter the meet­ing with Adams about the con­tracts, Shooter says, he was pub­licly ac­cused of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by Ugenti-Rita.

At the time of the sex­ual-ha­rass­ment report, Ugenti-Rita was en­gaged to Brian Townsend, who lob­bied for one of the com­pa­nies whose con­tract Shooter was ques­tion­ing. Townsend had pre­vi­ously worked as a pol­icy ad­viser to Ducey, and years ago, as an ad­viser to Adams while at the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Soon af­ter Ugenti-Rita’s al­le­ga­tions, the claim says, Mes­nard be­gan pres­sur­ing Shooter to re­sign.

“The Speaker’s re­quests for res­ig­na­tion made clear that he was not an im­par­tial ar­biter,” the claim says.

“Though trou­bling, Mr. Shooter be­lieved that once com­plete, the in­ves­tiga­tive report would be turned over to the Ethics Com­mit­tee whose mem­bers had not pub­licly or pri­vately weighed in.”

Mes­nard re­leased a state­ment Mon­day evening say­ing that the House was well within its pow­ers to oust Shooter.

“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,” Mes­nard said. “It’s un­for­tu­nate that Mr. Shooter con­tin­ues to blame oth­ers for the con­se­quences of his own ac­tions.”

On Nov. 8, Shooter asked for a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the al­le­ga­tions against him.

Shooter’s claim then de­tails what he says is the na­ture of other al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing Ugenti-Rita. Un­til now, no one has pub­licly stated what may be the scope of the al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing Ugenti-Rita, a Scotts­dale Repub­li­can.

The claim does not pro­vide a source of in­for­ma­tion about th­ese al­le­ga­tions.

“At the same time, Rep. Shooter asked the House to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions that had sur­faced con­cern­ing malfea­sance and other bad acts by Rep. Ugenti-Rita. Rep. Shooter al­leged vi­o­la­tions of House pol­icy by Rep. Ugenti-Rita in­clud­ing at­tempts to kiss, re­quests for sex, ex­pos­ing her gen­i­talia in per­son to a young fe­male staffer and by ‘sex­ting’ her graphic ‘self­ies.’

“Mr. Shooter al­leged that Ugenti-Rita also car­ried on an af­fair with an­other sub­or­di­nate House staff mem­ber. He re­quested the House com­plete a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion into those al­le­ga­tions, as well as any al­le­ga­tions against him.”

Ugenti-Rita was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

It is un­clear whether the in­ter­nal House in­ves­tiga­tive team scru­ti­nized those al­le­ga­tions specif­i­cally. Mes­nard has re­peat­edly re­buffed The

Ari­zona Repub­lic’s re­quests un­der the state Pub­lic Records Law to re­lease all ev­i­dence com­piled for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In the fi­nal pages of the report, Ugenti-Rita’s then-fi­ance ad­mit­ted to in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he en­gaged in in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct that “in­volved un­so­licited, sex­u­ally ex­plicit com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

It is un­clear to whom Townsend sent the ex­plicit com­mu­ni­ca­tions. In­ves­ti­ga­tors did not de­scribe the na­ture of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions but called them “un­wel­come,” “ha­rass­ing” and “of­fen­sive.”

The report says in­ves­ti­ga­tors “had no doubt” that the com­mu­ni­ca­tions had oc­curred, sug­gest­ing they ei­ther ob­tained the com­mu­ni­ca­tions or were shown them by re­cip­i­ents or oth­ers who some­how re­ceived them.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors char­ac­ter­ized Townsend’s con­duct as “egre­gious and po­ten­tially un­law­ful.” He didn’t im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded that Ugen­tiRita did not know about the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and was “vis­i­bly dis­traught” when asked by in­ves­ti­ga­tors about them, their report states.

In­stead of launch­ing an in­quiry though the House Ethics Com­mit­tee, Mes­nard hand-picked his own com­mit­tee — com­posed of his staff, in part — to re­view the al­le­ga­tions against Shooter and Ugenti-Rita, the claim states.

Mes­nard sus­pended Shooter from his po­si­tion as House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee chair­man, say­ing in a news re­lease that Shooter could not “prop­erly ful­fill his obli­ga­tions” un­til the in­quiry ended.

Mes­nard did not strip Ugenti-Rita of her po­si­tion as chair­woman of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee.

“The dis­parate and pref­er­en­tial treat­ment of Rep. Ugenti-Rita was con­sis­tent through­out the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Shooter’s claim states.

Mes­nard paid 25 per­cent more to the at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Ugenti-Rita dur­ing the in­ves­tiga­tive process than the fees in­curred by lawyers rep­re­sent­ing Shooter or Rep. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, the claim states.

Mes­nard orig­i­nally said that he would cap law­mak­ers’ le­gal as­sis­tance at $300 per hour, with a max­i­mum of $6,000, or 20 hours. Ugenti-Rita spent more than $8,000 while Shooter and Rios each spent slightly un­der $6,000.

Rios also was ac­cused last year of hav­ing an in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­la­tion­ship with a House staffer. Mes­nard di­rected the com­plaint against her to the House Ethics Com­mit­tee.

The com­plaint against Rios was swiftly dis­missed af­ter the House ethics chair­man con­cluded the ac­cu­sa­tion, lev­eled by an­other Demo­cratic law­maker, had been filed over a po­lit­i­cal dis­pute and lacked ev­i­dence.

A spokesman for Rios said the dis­missal of that al­le­ga­tion “speaks for it­self.”

There is no pol­icy pro­hibit­ing con­sen­sual re­la­tion­ships be­tween law­mak­ers and House staffers.

Much of Shooter’s claim fo­cuses on com­plaints that his re­moval vi­o­lated House rules and his right to due process un­der the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

Shooter al­leges that Mes­nard wrongly ap­plied the House’s more re­stric­tive “zero tol­er­ance” sex­ual-ha­rass­ment pol­icy in its in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The cham­ber didn’t have a writ­ten ha­rass­ment pol­icy un­til Novem­ber, when Mes­nard cre­ated it af­ter ha­rass­ment ac­cu­sa­tions arose.

Shooter’s at­tor­ney, Kraig Mar­ton, con­tends that Mes­nard doesn’t have the author­ity to uni­lat­er­ally im­pose new ha­rass­ment rules on elected of­fi­cials with­out a vote of the House.

“To date, this pol­icy has never been voted on and there­fore has never been adopted by the elected mem­bers of the House,” Shooter’s claim states.

Shooter al­leges that the out­come of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against him would have been dif­fer­ent with­out with a “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy in place. His claim states that while his be­hav­ior would have been found “of­fen­sive and un­couth on sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions,” it wouldn’t have cre­ated a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment.

The use of an out­side law firm, ap­pointed as spe­cial coun­sel, to lead the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Shooter is an­other tar­get of his claim.

Shooter con­tends the process used to oust him was a his­tor­i­cal anom­aly. His claim states that the House Ethics Com­mit­tee or a spe­cial com­mit­tee has over­seen ev­ery other in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a state leg­is­la­tor ac­cused of mis­con­duct.

“Put an­other way, no Leg­is­la­ture in the his­tory of Ari­zona, has con­sid­ered the ex­pul­sion of a mem­ber with­out en­gag­ing a spe­cial or ethics com­mit­tee con­sist­ing of elected mem­bers, and pro­vid­ing ba­sic el­e­ments of fair dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses,” his claim states.

The House can ex­pel any mem­ber for dis­or­derly be­hav­ior with a two-thirds vote un­der the Ari­zona Con­sti­tu­tion.

Shooter con­tends that fail­ing to use the tra­di­tional process de­prived him of an op­por­tu­nity to re­spond through an im­par­tial in­quiry led by his elected peers.

His claim states that the House’s “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy, adopted by Mes­nard in Novem­ber, was un­fairly ap­plied retroac­tively. Ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against Shooter date back to 2011, when he en­tered the state Se­nate.

Shooter was elected to the House in 2016, but in­ves­ti­ga­tors sub­stan­ti­ated sev­eral al­le­ga­tions from his time in the Se­nate.

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