Arizona Capitol

David Stringer Faces Two Ethics Complaints. What Now?

Arizona State Representative David Stringer on the House floor on January 23, 2019.
Arizona State Representative David Stringer on the House floor on January 23, 2019. Joseph Flaherty
A Democratic Arizona lawmaker filed a second ethics complaint against State Representative David Stringer on Tuesday, adding to the fallout over the Prescott Republican's recently revealed 1983 sex charges and history of making racist comments.

Stringer’s fate now largely rests in the hands of the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, since Republican lawmakers on Monday sidestepped a motion from Democrats to expel Stringer.

In the coming days, the committee will take up two complaints against Stringer. One is broader than the other.

State Representative Reginald Bolding filed the broader complaint on Tuesday, covering Stringer's racist comments that were publicized in June and November, as well as the 1983 charges. Bolding's complaint says Stringer has demonstrated a pattern of behavior that is "dishonorable and unbecoming of a member of the Arizona House of Representatives."

Bolding, who made the blocked motion to expel Stringer on Monday, told reporters on Tuesday that House Democrats are keeping expulsion on the table if the caucus is not satisfied with the ethics process.

"We will continue to look at that each day to make sure this ethics complaint is actually moving forward in a manner that is satisfactory to the public and to the caucus, and if we see this ethics complaint is nothing more than a measure to waste time, we will bring the motion back to the floor," he said.

(See Bolding's complaint below.)
The other complaint, filed by Republican State Representative Kelly Townsend on Monday, only covers Stringer's 1983 charges, asserting that his alleged behavior in Baltimore could constitute "disorderly conduct." 

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Townsend said she hoped an ethics investigation would shed light on the murky details of Stringer's 1983 case.

"With the information we have, we need to see exactly what happened," Townsend said. "It is of such an egregious nature, that it is something I feel needs to be known."

(See Townsend's complaint below.)

Per committee rules, Stringer will be given an opportunity to respond to the complaints in writing. Stringer also has the right to present evidence, to examine all evidence presented against him, and to cross-examine witnesses. He also has the right to legal counsel at his expense.

State Representative T.J. Shope, a Republican from Florence, chairs the Ethics Committee. The five-member body also includes Democrats Diego Rodriguez and Kirsten Engel, and Republicans John Allen and Gail Griffin.

Created by state law, the House Ethics Committee is charged with investigating complaints against members and issuing recommendations based on a probe's findings. Shope currently acts as the gatekeeper, determining whether a complaint falls within the committee's purview.

Stringer became a center of controversy in June when video of him emerged calling immigration an "existential threat" and lamenting that there aren't "enough white kids to go around" in Arizona public schools. Pressure for him to resign mounted in November, when Phoenix New Times published audio of him saying African-Americans "don't blend in," among other controversial remarks.

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 1983. The document appears to show a court entered a judgment of guilt on the three non-child porn offenses. Stringer also was instructed to seek admission at a well-known clinic for sex offenders, the record shows.

Stringer claims he was wrongfully arrested. The conservative news site Arizona Daily Independent reported without evidence that Stringer pleaded to "probation before judgment" on two unspecified misdemeanors stemming from his 1983 charges. The site claimed prosecutors dropped "pornography" charges against Stringer and that he neither pleaded guilty to any crime nor received any conviction from the case.

The last major ethics action against a legislator occurred in 2012, when the Ethics Committee voted to recommend expelling former Democratic State Representative Daniel Patterson over an array of allegations, including domestic violence, verbally abusing colleagues, and offering to trade sex for votes. Patterson resigned before the House was expected to vote for his removal.

Last year, former Republican State Representative Don Shooter faced a different path to removal after facing sexual harassment allegations. Lawmakers voted 56-3 to expel Shooter after an investigator working outside the purview of the ethics committee substantiated some of the allegations against him.
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh