Arizona lawmaker expelled for harassment files $1.3M claim

PHOENIX — A former Arizona representative who became the first state lawmaker expelled for sexual misconduct since the #MeToo movement swept the nation filed a $1.3 million claim Monday against the House speaker and Gov. Doug Ducey's chief of staff.

The claim filed by former Rep. Don Shooter as a precursor to a lawsuit says he was targeted by the governor's office because of his efforts to expose widespread fraud in the state procurement system. The claim says House Speaker J.D. Mesnard changed House rules and policies on harassment to remove Shooter from his committee chair post and ultimately to force a Feb. 1 expulsion vote.

Ducey's office called Shooter's filings "desperate claims by a disgraced, ousted lawmaker" and said they are untrue. Mesnard said he hadn't read the claim and couldn't immediately comment.

Shooter was accused by a female lawmaker, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, of harassment in November. Mesnard ordered an investigation after Shooter accused the woman of having an inappropriate relationship with a staffer but she was cleared. Other women soon came forward.

Shooter eventually apologized for what he called his "jarring, insensitive and demeaning" comments but argued that he never sought to touch anyone or have a sexual relationship with them.

The investigative report essentially cleared Ugenti-Rita but found Shooter had engaged in "repeated pervasive conduct (that) created a hostile work environment for his colleagues and those with business before the Legislature." Mesnard initially moved to have him censured, but moved to expel him after Shooter tried to contact a woman involved in the Ugenti-Rita case.

The 56-3 vote for expulsion came after Shooter made an impassioned floor speech where he said he had said and done stupid things but "I stood on the carpet, I took it like a man, I apologized."

At the end of his speech, he held his arm out, dropped the microphone on his desk and walked out. He was one of three lawmakers to vote against his ouster.

The claim filed Monday alleges that his effort to root out procurement fraud got the attention of Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams in early 2017 and implies without evidence that Adams got a local television reporter to target him. It says Shooter continued his effort to root out fraud and after a Nov. 2 meeting with Adams where he said he would use his subpoena power to get records the sexual harassment claim was filed.

Shooter's claim said the expulsion was meant "only to remove the burr under the Governor's saddle that Representative Shooter had become due to his attempts to uncover evidence of steering, no-bid contracts and other non-competitive procurement processes."

The $1.3 million figure is arbitrary, because no one can sue the state unless a financial claim is rejected. It said he wants the case to go to trial so he can clear his name.

"In his words, he is 'just the boy to do it.' Mr. Shooter has a compelling story to tell, backed up by the evidence," Shooter's attorney Kraig J. Marton wrote. "He looks forward to the process and his opportunity in a setting, that this time, will include his right to due process."

 

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