Since the disclosure of State Representative David Stringer’s sex-crime charges, the Arizona legislator has made a concerted effort to keep documents related to his case hidden from public view.
Stringer's colleagues voted on Wednesday to make that much more difficult.
The House Ethics Committee — which has hired a special counsel to investigate Stringer's 1983 criminal case — denied a request from Stringer to provide relevant records confidentially.
Ethics committee chairperson T.J. Shope, a Republican, recently issued a subpoena to Stringer to turn over documents concerning his five sex-crime charges, including two counts of child pornography, that he racked up when he lived in Baltimore in the 1980s.
Stringer will have until Wednesday to provide the sought documents, Shope said to reporters after the hearing. Stringer must also submit to an interview with Ballard Spahr, the firm conducting the investigation, by Friday.
Shope said he subpoenaed Stringer only after the Prescott Republican refused to voluntarily provide records or sit down for an interview.
"I was very loathe to have to sign a subpoena letter for a colleague," Shope said.
Stringer said he would show the committee the records, but only if he could do so behind closed doors. The Ethics Committee voted 4-1 to reject his request. State Representative Gail Griffin, a Republican, was the sole committee member who voted in favor of Stringer. Griffin's explanation was unintelligible.
Committee members who opposed Stringer's request said that allowing him to disclose his case records confidentially could erode public trust.
"I think our role on the Ethics committee and what we are charged to do is one of our most weighty responsibilities," said State Representative Kirsten Engel, a Democrat, explaining her vote. "Of most importance is having confidence in what we do. Integral in having public confidence is transparency in our deliberations on which it is based."
Stringer faces two ethics complaints related to his Maryland criminal case, with one of the complaints also addressing several racist comments he made in 2018.
A Maryland court document obtained by Phoenix New Times shows that state's judiciary entered a judgment of guilt for Stringer on three sex offenses in 1984. Stringer got his criminal case expunged in 1990, essentially erasing it from the public record.
Even before the ethics committee's subpoena, Stringer has attempted to keep details about his case from leaking out.
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An investigation by the Arizona Supreme Court completed last week found no evidence that Stringer failed to disclose his record when he applied to practice law in this state in 2004.
During that investigation, state officials obtained a 1984 letter from the Washington, D.C. Bar dismissing a disciplinary case against him over his sex-crimes case. Stringer successfully applied to have that letter sealed, according to a ruling by William O’Neil, presiding disciplinary judge for the Arizona Supreme Court.
The letter is confidential, according to Washington, D.C.. law, and contains details of Stringer’s case that were expunged by the Maryland judiciary.
In Stringer’s request to seal the letter, his attorney, Carmen Chenal, said disclosing it to the public would violate his privacy and "could be misinterpreted, selectively reported, or otherwise used to harm [Stringer's] reputation personal character, and professional standing.”