In February, State Senator Paul Boyer wanted to ensure that his bill to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse would be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee chair, Republican State Senator Eddie Farnsworth, told Boyer to bring in County Attorney Bill Montgomery, emails obtained via public records requests show.
“I need you to reach out to Bill Montgomery for a meeting with him, myself and Eddie Farnsworth about my Statute of Limitations bill, 1255,” Boyer wrote his executive assistant, Tracey Gardner, in an email on Tuesday, February 12. “This needs to happen before Friday [February 15] as that’s the deadline for Judiciary to post their agenda and I want to get it on the agenda. I’ve been working with Eddie and he asked me to bring in Bill."
Fifteen minutes later, Gardner responded, “Done.” The meeting was set up for Thursday, February 14, to be held in Farnsworth’s office, she wrote.
That exchange and others offer more evidence and insight into the influence of Montgomery, the county’s top prosecutor and a staunch Republican who is vying for a seat on the state Supreme Court, behind the scenes at the Legislature. Although Boyer, also a Republican, ultimately succeeded in passing a different, landmark bill to extend the civil statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, records and interviews show that for SB 1255 to advance in the legislative process, Farnsworth demanded that Boyer secure Montgomery’s involvement, if not his agreement.
Boyer told Phoenix New Times in an interview that he acquiesced to Farnsworth’s request in February because Farnsworth chaired the committee in which SB 1255 needed a hearing. Whenever the chair of a committee puts forward conditions for a bill to be heard, Boyer said he tries to meet them, as long as the request is reasonable.
“He told me that for this piece of legislation to move, Bill Montgomery had to be on board,” Boyer said. “Of course, I brought in Bill, or tried to.”
Nevertheless, Boyer found Farnsworth’s request bizarre, in part because Farnsworth, he said, frequently talked about being the ultimate decision maker. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Farnsworth would say that no one told him what to do or what to put on the agenda, Boyer said.
“I’d like to know which one is it,” Boyer said. “Is Eddie the ultimate decision maker, or is Bill?”
Farnsworth ultimately missed the February meeting with Montgomery, Boyer said, and so he and Montgomery met one-on-one. Boyer had to get permission from Senate President Karen Fann to be excused from a handful of floor votes in order to attend the meeting, because it was the only time Montgomery was available, he said.
Boyer recalled that in their discussion, Montgomery supported extending the civil statute of limitations from two years to seven years after the age of 18, to give survivors more time to sue their abusers.
In comments emailed to New Times through spokesperson Amanda Steele, Montgomery said that his goal “was to help a friend accomplish meaningful reform to help victims of sexual assault.” He said his conversations with Boyer centered on trying to adapt language that would allow a victim to file suit.
According to both Boyer and Montgomery, their February meeting did not touch on the idea of a window to retroactively grant survivors older than 25 a temporary period of time — a year, or maybe two — to take their abusers to court.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, their advocates, and other experts say that this window is key to outing perpetrators and protecting would-be victims. Boyer called it “the heart of this issue.”
In an op-ed in the Arizona Republic in late May, Gilbert resident Greg Kelly wrote that only after Delaware passed the Child Victims Act in 2007, which included a two-year window, was he able to successful sue the man who abused him in 1975. The man was a judge in Delaware, and Kelly's suit forced him to admit to the abuse and resign. He ultimately was disbarred.
But such an allowance has many opponents in the insurance industry, which lobbied heavily this spring against bills containing such a window, claiming it would create a tsunami of litigation and unleash an unexpected increase in expenses for the industry.
This window wasn’t in the original version of SB 1255 that Boyer proposed, but Boyer figured he could work around that. “I thought, 'Great, I’ll get [Montgomery’s] support for this [extension to seven years], and then amend it later,'” he told New Times.
The day after meeting with Montgomery, Boyer received notification that SB 1255 was on the agenda for the Judiciary Committee. But, as he warned in an email to lobbyist Meghaen Dell’Artino, with whom he worked on the proposed legislation, “Remember, he said putting it on the agenda doesn’t guarantee he’ll actually hear it.”
With another deadline looming, he and Dell’Artino worked with the legislative council to amend the bill. At one point, Boyer suggested striking two lines that Farnsworth disliked, musing whether “this [would] accomplish what Bill agreed to.”
But at some point before the hearing, Farnsworth made Boyer commit to not altering the bill. The request struck Boyer as “bizarre, because bills get amended all the time.”
“For him to say, The only way that I will hear this bill is if you don’t amend it — I couldn’t accept it,” he said. Boyer amended the bill further, to give time-barred survivors a retroactive, temporary two-year window in which to sue.
In the end, Farnsworth declined to give the bill a hearing, effectively killing it.
Farnsworth did not reply to New Times’ request for comment.
It wasn’t the last time Boyer would hear from Montgomery about the sex-abuse statute of limitations bill. In April, Boyer tried again to change the law with a strike-all amendment to another bill, SB 1101. The amendment toyed with the possibility of a retroactive window. On April 3, the day before the bill was scheduled for a House committee hearing, Montgomery texted Boyer.
“Hi Paul, what happened to just extending time to file a suit to 7 years past age of majority instead of 2?” he wrote, in one of a string of text messages, some of which were previously reported by AZFamily. Boyer responded that he and Farnsworth had “reached an impasse” on the issue, asking if Montgomery had spoken with Farnsworth recently.
Montgomery then invited Boyer to lunch the following day, saying he was “meeting Eddie,” too. Boyer declined, citing a new baby, and Montgomery continued pressing, via text.
“Couple questions: Why not just go with the extension on current cutoff? Did Eddie want more? Again, given changes with victim response, just adding to post majority timeframe should work,” he wrote. He appeared to elaborate on “changes with victim response” in a subsequent text, saying that current predators and victims live today in a “very different cultural context.”
“Current predators face scrutiny and accountability much more so than 20 years ago,” Montgomery wrote. “It is [a] relatively easier environment for victims to disclose today than 10 years ago,” allowing that he was speaking “admittedly from an anecdotal standpoint.”
Throughout the exchange, Boyer continued defending the need for a retroactive window. “An extension to 25 years of age doesn’t stop current predators,” he wrote. “Predators don’t stop until they’re caught. Children don’t report or aren’t believed/lack of evidence. And bulk of victims don’t come forward until after their 20s.”
In comments to New Times from May, Montgomery insisted that he had “never lobbied for or against any bill seeking to extend Arizona’s statute of limitations for bringing forth a civil claim involving this type of offensive comments.” He also said that he encouraged the Legislature “to remedy what is among the nation’s most stringent statute of limitations.”
He maintained that stance in his comments in July. “My Office staff did not lobby the bill. Neither I nor my Office signed in on the bill. I never asked for anyone to vote for or against the bill,” he wrote. He said that with the exception of Farnsworth and Boyer, he had not discussed the bill “with any other legislator,” and that his texts were a response to changes that Boyer had made and the opposition that resulted.
“I was simply asking him if he could find comprise [sic] — with others since I had no vote and no role — with the suggestions I offered,” he wrote.
Boyer interpreted Montgomery’s texts from April differently. “I was getting the sense that he was trying to get me off the window,” he told New Times. He said he found the timing, right before the House committee hearing, peculiar.
It took several other attempts, topped off with threats from Boyer and fellow Republican State Senator Heather Carter to withhold critical votes for a budget, to pass a bill that gave survivors until the age of 30 to sue, with a temporary window until the end of 2020 for older survivors. On May 28, Governor Doug Ducey signed the bill into law.
Research indicates that the median age for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to come forward is 48; the average age is 52. Next year, Boyer said, he wanted to extend the statute of limitations further, to at least 48, if not 55.
“I wanted to include that this year,” Boyer said, but it would have to wait until next.