Political foes in Arizona House co-sponsor criminal justice reform bill | Phoenix New Times
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Political foes in Arizona House co-sponsor criminal justice reform bill

"A good bill is a good bill": The legislation pays for attorneys’ fees for some people found not guilty in criminal trials.
Reps. Alex Kolodin (left), a conservative Republican, and Analise Ortiz, a progressive Democrat, cosponsored a criminal justice reform bill.
Reps. Alex Kolodin (left), a conservative Republican, and Analise Ortiz, a progressive Democrat, cosponsored a criminal justice reform bill. Gage Skidmore and Katya Schwenk
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A surprising coalition of lawmakers — including a right-wing Republican and a progressive Democrat — is coming together to help protect people wrongly prosecuted in the state.

Penned by Reps. Alex Kolodin and Analise Ortiz, HB 2476 allows people found not guilty in criminal trials to recover some of their attorneys' fees if they hired private counsel. Kolodin is a member of far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus who represents Scottsdale, while Ortiz represents west Phoenix and supports legislation protecting LGBTQ+ people, wants to protect victims of police violence and stands with cannabis industry workers who want to unionize.

The pair of lawmakers introduced HB 2476 on Jan. 17.

“I approached Rep. Ortiz with the bill,” Kolodin told Phoenix New Times. “I said, ‘I’d like to run a bill on this, are you down? Is this something you might be willing to cosponsor?’”

Kolodin, an attorney, said he noticed that while people who sued the government or disputed a contract can recoup some of money they spent on lawyers, defendants in criminal trials can’t.

“If you’re a criminal defendant and the government tries to throw you in jail and you are innocent, you can’t recover your fees,” Kolodin said. “Even if a defendant is innocent, the attorneys’ fees required for defense can drive someone into bankruptcy and force them to mortgage their house.”

Ortiz said the community she represents, which is two-thirds Hispanic, has been hurt by “over-policing, over-surveillance and unjust prosecutions."

“It’s really important to me that when a gross miscarriage of justice happens, there is compensation for the person whose life was impacted significantly by the poor decision of prosecutors,” Ortiz said.

The collective effort behind HB 2476 reflects an idea Kolodin referenced in an interview with New Times: the horseshoe theory of politics, which states that the far right and far left have plenty on which to agree.

“You have people who have committed no crime and still they’ve been terribly punished because their financial future has been wrecked. That has always seemed unfair to me,” Kolodin said.

Rep. Cory McGarr, a Republican representing southern Arizona, also is a sponsor of the bill.
click to enlarge Arizona state Sens. Anna Hernandez and Wendy Rogers
State Sens. Anna Hernandez (left) and Wendy Rogers co-sponsored the Senate version of legislation to compensate people acquitted in criminal prosecutions.
TJ L'Heureux and Elias Weiss

Politics aside, ‘A good bill is a good bill’

The companion bill in the state Senate, SB 1207, also includes a pair of strange political bedfellows as co-sponsors: Sens. Anna Hernandez, a Democrat who represents the same District 24 as Ortiz, and Wendy Rogers, a Republican whose District 7 runs east and north of Maricopa County. Rogers received a bipartisan censure by colleagues in 2022 over “unhinged” posts and calls for public execution.

Kolodin entered into a settlement with the state bar of Arizona on Nov. 6 for his role in challenging the results of the 2020 election in court. He now is serving 18 months of probation, had to pay a $2,700 fine and had to take legal ethics classes as part of his settlement.

Ortiz expressed her bipartisan collaboration with Kolodin and other controversial Republicans succinctly on social media, tweeting, “A good bill is a good bill.”

“We came to a bipartisan consensus on this bill, and ultimately, that’s a positive thing for the state of Arizona," Ortiz told New Times. "We have a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor, which to me is a mandate from voters that we need to be working across the aisle to get things done that work for all Arizonans. And I think this bill accomplishes that goal.”

Kolodin said he expects more fellow members of the Arizona Freedom Caucus to support the legislation.

“I have reason to know at least some of them will be supportive,” Kolodin said. “This is one of those areas where I think there’s just bipartisan agreement that this is a thing we gotta do.”

HB 2476 was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 17 and awaits a hearing. SB 1207 has not received a first reading in the Senate.
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