Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Redistricting -- Open Meeting Law/Clause Litigation

This morning, a three judge panel at the Arizona Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Maricopa County Attorney's effort to make the Independent Redistricting Commission subject to statutory Open Meeting Law.

This case stems from allegations that "serial communications" took place in 2011 contrary to the Open Meeting Law (A.R.S. §38-431). In September 2011, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (actually, now EMBATTLED AG Horne), goaded by a manufactured outrage generated by Tea Partisans and reported by the Arizona Capitol Times' Christian Palmer, initiated an attempt to enforce the OML pursuant to A.R.S. §38-431.06.

Horne issued written investigative demands to the members of the IRC. Republican commissioners Rick Stertz and Scott Freeman submitted to deposition interviews with AG investigators. Commissioners Mathis, McNulty and Herrera challenged those demands and did not submit to the interviews.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink disqualified Horne from the case based on conflict of interest (the AG's office had represented the IRC regarding Open Meetings) and ruled that the investigative demands were not valid and not enforceable.

This morning, Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Colleen Connor argued before the court that the IRC should be subject to the statutory OML. But most significantly, she conceded that the petition originally filed by Horne to compel the commissioners to submit to the investigative demands was moot and therefore she was not appealing that portion of Judge Fink's ruling.

IRC counsel Mary O'Grady summed up the hearing today saying the following:
The most notable development in the argument was that the Deputy County Attorney acknowledged that they did not appeal the trial court’s decision that there was no reasonable cause supporting this particular investigation and so that issue was moot. 
The court took the matter at hand under advisement (whether the IRC is subject to the statutory OML in addition to the Constitutional Open Meeting Clause) and will issue a ruling "in due time." There was no indication from the judges when that might be and nobody seems to have any basis on which to offer a guess.

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It is worth noting that last weekend, the Arizona Newspaper Association held its annual awards banquet. The Arizona Capitol Times and Christian Palmer were honored with ANA's Freedom of Information Award:
Palmer and Wyloge were also honored with a Freedom of Information award for their reporting on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that used public records to demonstrate that several members of the map-drawing panel colluded to hire a favored consulting firm.
Several journalist friends have said to me that ANA can only make their award decisions based on what is submitted to them. Apparently, however, a whole lot of somebodies forgot to tell ANA that Judge Fink ruled (and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and his deputy Colleen Connor have now conceded) that there WAS NO DEMONSTRATION of collusion, NO probable cause to issue the civil investigative demands and there has been NO court finding that ANY wrongdoing took place regarding the IRC mapping consultant procurement process.

Don't expect a mea culpa from either the Arizona Capitol Times or Christian Palmer. What this DOES demonstrate, however, is that Christian Palmer was indeed conducting an ongoing exercise in ax grinding. His Linked In profile says he now works as an "investigative reporter" for the Goldwater Institute, a rightwing lobby shop masquerading as a think tank. "Hit piece copywriter" is probably a more fair description.

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