PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has rejected the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate’s argument that it should limit communications between its leaders and private contractors to conduct an unprecedented review of 2020 election results in the state’s most populous county. can stop.
The decision, issued Thursday evening, is the latest in a series of pitfalls for the Senate, stemming from efforts to keep secret records of how the review was conducted. A watchdog group called American Oversight sued to force his release and won repeatedly. The Arizona Republic newspaper has a separate lawsuit seeking records from the election review.
The Senate has already released thousands of records after a court ruling in the US oversight case found they were covered by the state’s public records law. It was trying to shield over 1,000 other texts and emails.
American Oversight said it is fighting for the right of the public to review how the partisan audit was funded and how Cyber Ninjas and other private contractors hired by the Senate.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp’s decision held that the Senate’s position that the records were covered by legislative privilege was absolutely wrong. He said the purpose of the privilege is to protect the debate about pending legislation and that there is no proposed law in the matter.
And he said the Senate waived any privileges when Senate President Karen Fan and other top Republicans made public statements about the “audit.” He also noted that Fan and GOP Sen. Warren Peterson presided over an hour-long hearing last month that “was very similar to a press conference.” At that hearing, Senate contractors presented the results of a review showing that President Joe Biden had indeed won Maricopa County, raising questions about procedures.
“Senate defendants cannot publicly issue multiple public statements about the audit, issue a comprehensive report about the audit, and then refuse to disclose the documents and communications that lead to that report.” are central and integral to the findings and findings,” wrote Kemp.
Kemp said he would allow the Senate to pursue only narrow exemptions based on secrecy, confidentiality or the best interests of the state “if those interests outweigh the public’s right to access those records.”
“From the beginning, the Senate has promised transparency while fighting to prevent any public scrutiny of its so-called audit process,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement. “The time for complete transparency is now. We are waiting for further decisions from the court.”
An appeal can be made against this decision in the High Court. Fan said Friday that she disagreed with the judge’s decision and would meet with Senate lawyers to decide what to do now. He said legitimate issues of legislative privilege are at stake.
“We understand the issue of transparency,” Fan said. “But we also believe that he has gone beyond that line.”
Kemp held hearings in early November to review progress on releasing Senate records.
The judge said the main question for the public is the basis of the findings contained in the report, many of which have been questioned by Maricopa County officials. He said auditing the results of the presidential and US Senate elections “goes to the heart of our democracy” and that the public has the right to compare the final report with the underlying documents.
“The public has a right to know the basis of these findings and conclusions, and to challenge and investigate those findings,” Kemp wrote. “The public has a right to know how the audit was conducted, who paid for it and how much was paid. The public also has the right to know the identity of any political organization that financed the audit. “
Last week, another Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered the Senate to turn over other records it argued were privileged so that it could review them privately. The Arizona Republic had good reason to believe that the legislative privilege does not apply to at least some records, Judge John Hannah wrote in the 13-page ruling.
The Senate launched the review after former President Donald Trump and his supporters leveled baseless allegations of losing out in Arizona and other battleground states because of fraud or other electoral malpractices.
But the review ended without evidence to support Trump’s false claims of stolen election. A hand-count of 2.1 million ballots found Biden won Maricopa County by 360 more votes than the official results certified last year.
Fan and Senate Republicans plan to push legislation next year that address problems with the state’s election system.
A partisan review of the Arizona results, which was testified by Republican Governor Doug Ducey in an election he defended as free and fair, has raised concerns about its impact on public confidence in the polls. A US House committee last week took testimony from GOP Maricopa County officials, one of whom called the audit “the biggest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”