The State Bar of Arizona is investigating Representative David Stringer's law license application, a development that may relate to Phoenix New Times' discovery of sex charges filed against Stringer in 1983.
Rick DeBruhl, bar spokesman, said court rules prevent him from disclosing much about the probe, including its current status or when it began.
The Arizona Mirror first reported on the bar investigation earlier Wednesday afternoon. DeBruhl confirmed the information to New Times in a carefully worded statement, saying the investigation was "with regards to his [Stringer's] application to practice law in Arizona."
In general, an initial investigation would become a formal investigation by the bar "if there is clear and convincing evidence of a rule violation," DeBruhl said.
On Friday, New Times published a court document showing Stringer was charged with five sex offenses, including two counts of child pornography, when he lived in Baltimore in the '80s. The document appears to show a court entered a judgment of guilt on the three non-child porn offenses.
The revelation came in the middle of debate by Stringer's fellow lawmakers on what should be done about racist statements he made in two separate occasions last year. Governor Doug Ducey and other state leaders called for Stringer to resign after his public comments, which included the statement that Arizona schools suffered from a lack of "white kids."
Criticism of the Prescott Republican grew louder after the sudden revelation of the 1983 sex charges, and led to two pending House Ethics Committee complaints. Depending on the results of investigations of those complaints, the Legislature could vote to expel Stringer.
A state bar investigation, should it uncover evidence of ethics violations, could possibly result in suspension or disbarment.
As New Times writer Steven Hsieh noted in his Friday article about the sex charges, Stringer’s criminal record did not keep him from practicing law in Maryland or Arizona.
Aaron Nash, a spokesperson for the Arizona Supreme Court, said last week that Arizona bar applicants are expected to disclose an expunged record during a portion of the bar application for evaluating a would-be lawyer's “fitness and character.”
“There is a presumption that conviction of a misdemeanor involving a serious crime or any felony will prevent admission,” Nash said.
Stringer has been an active member of the Arizona Bar Association since January 6, 2004, according to online records.
New Times has requested a copy of the Arizona Bar Association application from 2003 and 2004 from Nash.
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It’s unknown whether Stringer disclosed his Maryland criminal case to the bar before his admission in that state.
The worst-case scenario for Stringer: Arizona Supreme Court's Disciplinary Judge, William O'Neil, strips him of his law license.
If the investigation didn't find evidence, it would be dismissed. But an investigation could be revived again if evidence shows up later, DeBruhl said.
Stringer wasn't in the office on Wednesday afternoon and didn't immediately return a message.