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Arizona House ethics panel finds Chandler lawmaker violated rules

Scottsdale insurance agent's testimony at center of controversy

Posted 4/11/23

PHOENIX – Chandler legislator Liz Harris violated Arizona House rules by inviting a witness to present false charges about lawmakers and others to a committee meeting on election integrity …

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Arizona House ethics panel finds Chandler lawmaker violated rules

Scottsdale insurance agent's testimony at center of controversy


PHOENIX – Chandler legislator Liz Harris violated Arizona House rules by inviting a witness to present false charges about lawmakers and others to a committee meeting on election integrity and then lying about knowing what was going to be said, the House Ethics Committee has concluded.

In a report released Tuesday, April 11, the panel found that Harris knew or was at least aware ahead of time that Jacqueline Breger, a Scottsdale insurance agent, was going to allege that numerous people, including House Speaker Ben Toma, other lawmakers, judges were all part of schemes involving money laundering, drug trafficking, public corruption, bribery of public officials and election fraud.

Breger also asserted during the hearing that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "controls'' government agencies and has been "integral to the laundering activities.''

And members of the panel said even if they believed that Harris, who had invited Breger, did not know of her testimony ahead of time - a contention they rejected - she did nothing during the hearing to stop the presentation.

The five-member bipartisan committee unanimously concluded, she violated House rules against disorderly behavior. And in doing so, it said she damaged "the institutional integrity of the House.''

But the panel made no recommendation about what would be the proper discipline. Instead, the report says that all 60 House members should read the full report and look at the exhibits and draw their own conclusions.

Punishment could be censure or as much as expulsion. The latter action would require a two-thirds vote of the 60-member chamber.

Harris expressed little concern.

"God knows the truth,'' she told Capitol Media Services.

Even before the Ethics Committee probe, House Democrats had asked for a motion of censure which was rejected by the Republican majority.

"The report now clearly demonstrates that Rep. Harris has damaged the integrity of the institution that we all hold dear,'' said House Minority Leader Andres Cano of Tucson. "House Republicans need to tell us what their plan is to make sure this doesn't happen again.''

There was no immediate response from Toma or House GOP leadership.

The investigation is fallout from a five-hour meeting in February of representatives and senators, requested by and organized by Harris, designed to hear presentations related to election integrity by pre-selected individuals. Breger presented last.

During her testimony, the ethics panel found, Breger "unequivocally and repeatedly accused many government official of criminal conduct.'' That list included Toma, other legislators, local office holders, Maricopa County Superior Court judges, prosecutor and attorneys. And she specifically said that "in Arizona, public officials accepting bribes include members of the Legislature.''

At the Ethics Committee hearing last month, Harris insisted that she didn't know what Breger was going to say.

The report, however, said the evidence shows otherwise. And backing that up is a series of text messages

For example, when Harris asked Breger ahead of time for a title for her presentation, Breger responded "We are trying to think of something that won't raise a red flag.''

There also was testimony that Harris had spent more than two hours with Breger just four days before the presentation. And in the next four days, the report says, Harris had at least one phone call with Breger, two online virtual meetings and an ongoing group text with Breger and her boyfriend, attorney John Thaler, who first aired some of the allegations in court proceedings related to his divorce and child custody case.

And Harris did not dispute that there was a discussion of an alleged "deed scheme'' with an unnamed former employee of the Attorney General's Office - the precise subject of Breger's testimony - at least several weeks earlier.

Ethics Committee members also said that Harris took steps to avoid providing the materials ahead of the February hearing as required by internal House deadlines, and that she specifically wanted to keep the information away from House leadership, including the criminal allegations.

"The totality of the evidence shows that Rep. Harris used her elected position to provide Breger with a legislative platform as a substitute for a criminal court,'' the Ethics Committee concluded. "As Rep. Harris stated in a text message reply to Breger about the hearing, 'It was all how it was intended to be.' ''

During the Ethics Committee hearing, Harris presented a defense that included repeated references to the state constitution and her belief that lawmakers are obliged to allow citizens to come and present information to the Legislature.

"The people have the right to speak freely, petition the government and hold their government officials accountable,'' Harris said in her lengthy rebuttal to the allegations. "We must ensure that these rights are protected and that the people are empowered to exercise them.''

In its report, the Ethics Committee said it was not commenting on the constitutional rights of any individual to speak freely. But the report said House rules have long required not just its own members but the public and press to "maintain proper decorum.''

"What the House rules cannot tolerate is a member engaging in the conduct described (in the report), which erodes public trust in the legislative process,'' the report says.