Arizona State Representative David Stringer resigned from office on Wednesday after refusing to cooperate with an ethics investigation into sex crime charges he faced in 1983, including child pornography, which were first revealed by Phoenix New Times in January.
Stringer also faced criticism for several racist comments he made in 2018, including a comment to Arizona State University students that black people "don't blend in," and a remark to Yavapai County Republicans that there aren't "enough white kids to go around" in Arizona public schools.
The Prescott Republican faced an ethics investigation over the sex crime charges and racist comments. The House Ethics Committee imposed a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline on Stringer to hand over documents related to his 1983 Maryland court case. He refused, and resigned instead.
Stringer managed to get his sex crimes case expunged in 1999, meaning the Maryland judiciary essentially erased it from the public record. But a microfiche copy of a case history obtained by New Times provided bare-bones details about the case.
On January 25, New Times published a story revealing that Stringer faced five sex offenses, including two counts of child pornography, when he lived in Baltimore working for a federal agency.
In 1984, the year after he was charged, a Maryland court entered a judgment of guilt for Stringer on three of the sex offenses, New Times reported. His case history showed that Stringer was sentenced to five years' probation in the case, and that he was instructed to seek treatment at the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic.
Stringer steadfastly refused to answer questions about the revelation.
A sympathetic story by the conservative site Arizona Daily Independent reported that Stringer maintained his innocence, but was pressured to plead guilty out of fear of serving a long prison sentence. The site reported that Stringer was "accused of possession of pornography and patronizing prostitutes,” without making reference to the “child pornography” charges listed in his case history.
"Today I accepted the resignation of David Stringer," said Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers in a news release on Wednesday evening. “I’m grateful that the House will not be forced to take action against one of our members, and we can begin to put this matter behind us.”
Stringer was first elected to serve in the House of Representatives in November 2016. His district, Legislative District 1, comprises Yavapai County and a small part of north Maricopa County. He was re-elected in 2018, despite publication of his first racist comments in New Times, which went viral.
His resignation leaves it up to Republican officials in his district to choose a replacement. GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward has three days to notify the district of the vacancy, according to state law.
The district’s committeemen will have five days to submit three candidates to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, who will pick among the three for a replacement.
For nine months, Stringer has resisted bipartisan calls for him to resign.
The drumbeats began in July over Stringer's racist comments to the Yavapai County Republican Party Men’s Forum. Another round of condemnations followed in November, when New Times published audio of Stringer making more racist comments to ASU students.
The third chorus calling for Stringer’s resignation came in January following the revelation of his mysterious sex charges. Governor Doug Ducey asked Stringer to step down after all three incidents.
Two of his colleagues, Democratic co-whip Reginald Bolding and Republican State Rep. Kelly Townsend, filed ethics complaint against him at the beginning of the legislative session, which sparked an outside investigation of the racist comments and Maryland criminal case.
The law firm Ballard Spahr, led by Joseph Kanefield, was tapped to dig through Stringer's legal and professional history, prompting a subpoena from the House Ethics Committee that proved to be the last straw for the lawmaker.
Kanefield asked Stringer to hand over several documents for the investigation, including his legal bar applications, background checks, and criminal case records.
Stringer, through his attorney Carmen Chenal, said the only relevant record in the legislator’s possession was a 1984 letter from the Washington, D.C., Bar dismissing a complaint against him back then.
During a separate investigation into whether Stringer failed to disclose his criminal case to the Arizona bar, the legislator sought and received a protective order from the Arizona Supreme Court keeping the 1984 letter out of public view unless he requested the order be lifted.
Chenal told media that protective order barred Stringer from sharing the letter with the ethics committee, a claim that was disputed by House Ethics Chairman T.J. Shope. She said she wouldn't ask the court to lift the order for fear that media would spin it unfavorably for Stringer.
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"There's some information in there that could be misinterpreted, not by you, but by someone from the New Times. And that's not fair to him," Chenal told the Yellow Sheet Report, a publication of the Arizona Capitol Times.
Hours before Wednesday’s subpoena deadline, Chenal sought a temporary restraining order that would’ve prevented Stringer from having to release the letter.
But Chenal withdrew her request for the court order right before a Maricopa County Superior Court hearing was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m, leaving reporters and lawmakers scrambling to find out more.
According to Speaker Bowers’ statement, Stringer’s resignation ends the ethics investigation against him. The Ethics Committee still intends to release any public documents gathered over the course of the probe “as soon as possible,” however.