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Judge rules against state lawmaker expelled for sexual harassment
This February, Arizona’s House of Representatives voted nearly unanimously (56 to 3) to expel one of its own, Rep. Don Shooter, after multiple accusations of sexual harassment were made against him. The vote came after a law firm hired by the legislative body to investigate the allegations found “credible evidence” that he had harassed a minimum of seven women.
The first woman to publicly accuse him was a colleague in the House — Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. She’s also filed a lawsuit against him for defamation as well as battery, saying that he harmed her reputation after she reported what she says was a pattern of harassment. Shooter has countersued her.
Shooter claims that he’s the victim of a conspiracy to remove him from office by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard. He and his attorneys have been seeking access to documents from the investigation that he says will provide evidence of this conspiracy, which he says stems from his objections to no-bid state contracts.
The former lawmaker contends that they’re hiding documents that included evidence of inappropriate behavior by Rep. Ugenti-Rita and her former fiance, who used to work at the Capitol. Her attorney has called those accusations “unproven and not true.”
Attorneys for the House say that the documents associated with the investigation are protected under attorney-client privilege and attorney work product laws. A Maricopa County judge has agreed, ruling that the documents will not be made public.
The judge noted in his ruling this month that the ouster of Shooter from the House and Rep. Ugenti-Rita’s allegations are separate matters. He said, “The actions taken by the House of Representatives/Speaker of the House surely have common facts to the claims now before this court, but one did not cause the other.” He added that “to the extent the allegations are true, they occurred because of the actions of Mr. Shooter.”
It’s not uncommon for those accused of sexual harassment to respond with their own accusations against the victim. That shouldn’t deter people from reporting harassment, discrimination or other illegal behavior. Experienced attorneys can help victims who seek justice and compensation against those who engaged in the behavior and others who may have enabled it.