Former Arizona State Representative Don Shooter has launched a $1.3 million lawsuit against the chamber that dramatically expelled him in February on sexual misconduct charges. Based on Shooter’s previous assertions that his expulsion was part of an elaborate cover-up to protect Governor Doug Ducey, if the legal action makes any headway it could create uncomfortable headlines for the Arizona establishment. What will be the fallout from the Don Shooter lawsuit?
The Don Shooter lawsuit explained
On Monday April 16th Don Shooter’s lawyer, Kraig Marton, filed a notice of legal claim against Governor Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams, and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard. The claim alleges that Shooter was expelled not because of the allegations of sexual misconduct by nine different women, but in order to prevent him from exposing “serious issues of malfeasance in state government contracts.”
While the allegations are sensational (and have been thoroughly denied by Shooter’s detractors), there is a surprising amount of evidence to corroborate at least some of Shooter’s account so far.
If the Don Shooter lawsuit reaches a courtroom, here are some of the arguments the judge can expect to hear in court:
- In a November 2nd meeting with Governor Ducey’s chief of staff, Kirk Adams, Shooter told Adams about state technology contracts he found questionable. Shooter thought he had found irregularities in the procurement process and threatened to issue subpoenas, which was his right as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee (Gov Ducey’s office has publicly confirmed the threat of subpoenas but denies any irregularities in procurement).
- Five days later on November 7th, fellow Republican Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita accused Don Shooter of sexual harassment in a tweet. Ugenti-Rita had previously described sexual harassment she had endured while serving in the Arizona House but not named any names. Similar allegations about Shooter were later made by eight other women.
- On November 8th, House Speaker JD Mesnard announces an enquiry into the allegations against Shooter. On November 9th, as Shooter was now under investigation, Mesnard suspends Shooter from his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. This means Shooter can no longer issue subpoenas for information to Governor Ducey’s office.
- Shooter counters with several allegations of sexual impropriety involving Ugenti-Rita. The details of these allegations, and the possible revenge porn involved, has yet to be made public, but Ugenti-Rita was also a subject of the House investigation. Unlike Shooter, she was not suspended by Mesnard from her chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee.
- According to Shooter, the House investigation applied their “zero tolerance” policy to sexual harassment to Shooter’s case, despite the fact that this policy was instituted by Mesnard without a vote and only after the allegations against Shooter had been made.
- The investigation decided it had found credible evidence against Shooter, and, without appearing before the ethics committee, he was expelled in a vote on February 1st. This procedure was technically in line with the Arizona constitution, but according to Shooter, “unprecedented.”
Will the Don Shooter lawsuit amount to anything?
In a prepared statement, Speaker Mesnard made clear his opinion the only person at fault for Shooter’s expulsion was Shooter himself:
“The Arizona Constitution gives the Legislature broad powers when it comes to disciplining its own members, and Mr. Shooter’s expulsion was well within that authority. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Shooter continues to blame others for the consequences of his own actions.”
Speaking on behalf of Governor Ducey, press aide Daniel Scarpinato said, “These are desperate claims by a disgraced, ousted lawmaker. We dispute them entirely.”
Unfazed, Shooter’s attorney Kraig Marton laid out his client’s case:
“What began as an attempt to silence an outspoken critic of corruption in state government contracts turned into an all-out character assassination. Representative Shooter is entitled to have his name cleared, and it appears from the Speaker’s steadfast refusal to release information to the public or legislative members unless ‘required by subpoena’ that the only way to compel transparency and the truth is through litigation.
“Mr. Shooter intends to vigorously defend his reputation, and to work to restore the damage caused by the actions described in this notice of claim.”
The 17-page document submitted by Shooter is a legal precursor to litigation. The state now have 60 days to respond before the Don Shooter lawsuit can proceed.
If Shooter was paid the $1.3 million he is asking for, the case would be considered settled. But it appears that what Shooter wants his day in court and the chance to clear his name more than money.
In an email sent to the Arizona Capitol Times he said, “In 61 days, when I file the formal lawsuits, there will be plenty to say.”
And needless to say, there will be plenty of people who want to hear it.