Friday, February 11, 2022

The Friday Edition: Brnovich Should Tell Us What's in the Bar Agreement

Posted By on Fri, Feb 11, 2022 at 9:22 AM

click to enlarge Arizona Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Brnovich is fighting for the rule of law, when he's not violating the rules of the law. - GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Arizona Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Mark Brnovich is fighting for the rule of law, when he's not violating the rules of the law.

If the lawyer representing you struck an agreement with the State Bar over ethics complaints, you’d want to know what exactly they agreed to do to fix their ethical problems.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, by virtue of his position as the state’s top elected lawyer, represents all Arizonans in court. Yet we have no idea what his recent Bar “diversion agreement” entails because he won’t say.

Brnovich entered the diversion agreement after the Arizona Board of Regents and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs filed ethics complaints against Brnovich.

The regents say Brnovich acted unethically by suing the universities while also representing them as a client. And Hobbs said the AG’s office would act counter to her instructions and acting against her office. 

Diversion is an alternative to discipline, provided that an attorney completes the terms set out by an agreement, the Arizona Supreme Court’s guidelines for the program say. It is meant to protect the public and improve attorneys’ work through “education, remedial and rehabilitative programs so that attorneys modify practices, procedures or other conduct” that doesn’t comply with Bar rules. 

Such agreements are confidential under Supreme Court rules. But Brnovich could waive that confidentiality — and he’s the only one who can. The Bar can’t release the information, and the parties who filed complaints don’t know the terms of agreements either.

For a guy who usually has a lot to say about his political disagreements — like when he’s called the regents “gimmicky yobs” or “ivory tower eggheads” — he’s been quiet about the details. His office cast the agreement as a win and said he wants to work on solidifying the ethics rules for government lawyers.

And the AG’s office has cast the complaints as playing politics, which is ironic considering how Brnovich has used the office lately to shore up his MAGA bonafides heading into a heated U.S. Senate primary.

That’s the thing about an elected, partisan attorney, though: It is a political office. The rules for conflicts of interest in the private sector are cut and dry, and the way he’s acted would’ve run him into trouble there for sure.

But ethical guidelines for lawyers do at least recognize the differences of being a government lawyer. The preamble and scope of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct note this, saying that government lawyers “may be authorized to represent several government agencies in intragovernmental legal controversies in circumstances where a private lawyer could not represent multiple private clients.”

The issue isn’t new, and we’ve written about it many times by now. Some legal experts we spoke to in previous years noted how state attorneys general often act differently than the private sector attorneys we typically see.

Still, something about these recent ethics complaints warranted a diversion agreement, one that Brnovich will need to complete.

The diversion plan could be a simple requirement for more training or a more complex set of steps he needs to take. It could be benign or serious. The truth is, we have no idea. But we deserve to know — because we’ve placed Brnovich in a position of public authority, because he’s using our money, because elected officials supposedly are set to higher standards.

The AG’s office didn’t respond to our questions on Thursday about whether Brnovich will release the details of the agreement and if not, why not. Not a great sign, but we’ll keep pushing.

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Monday was the last day for lawmakers to introduce bills in the House, and introduce bills they did, bringing the grand total so far to nearly 1,700 bills, memorials and resolutions for the year.

Among this week’s new bills are:

  • Attempts to raise lawmakers' pay from $24,000 to $72,000, plus up to $40,000 in addition to pay the cost of living for lawmakers from outside of Maricopa County, and make the legislature work full-time. (If you call four days per week, 11 months per year full-time.) Voters would have to approve the changes at the ballot in November.

  • An effort to expand private school vouchers to every child in Arizona. Previous attempts to massively expand Arizona’s voucher system were referred to the ballot and vetoed by voters

  • Two different plans to make the Arizona auditor general audit elections

  • And a bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations that is backed by House Speaker Rusty Bowers

Committee action

Committees were hard at work passing bills ahead of next Friday’s deadline for bills to clear committees (except Rules and Appropriations) in their chambers of origin.

Here’s a sample of what passed committees this week and will likely be up for a vote from the full House or Senate soon:

  • An effort to preemptively ban public schools from requiring  COVID-19 vaccinations

  • A bill to make Election Day a legal holiday, which sounds cool until you read the part about outlawing early and mail voting

  • An attempt to restrict emergency voting

  • A plan to ask voters in November to require a 60 percent majority to pass any initiative at the ballot. The measure would only require more than 50 percent of the vote to pass.

  • Legislation to require third-party investigations into police use of force

  • And because there just aren’t enough guns on college campuses, a bill to let any student with a concealed carry permit to bear arms in class

A few bills of note also died in committees this week, including:

  • Republican Sen. Tyler Pace sided with Democrats to kill legislation to bar doctors from providing “gender transition procedures to anyone under 18.

  • Several Republicans representatives joined Democrats opposing legislation to block pornography from phones by requiring electronic devices activated in Arizona to automatically enact a filter against content that is “harmful to minors.” The Republicans said the idea stunk of Big Brother government.

The floors

Most of the action at the Capitol is still happening in committees, but a handful of bills worth mentioning cleared either the House or Senate this week, including:

  • The Senate approved legislation to increase the threshold of victory for a candidate to avoid a recount of their race. Currently, the threshold is a few hundred votes. Democrats opposed it almost unanimously, arguing it feeds the Big Lie.

  • The Senate passed legislation to fine schools that don’t display an American made American flag in every classroom.

  • The House passed a bill to create a new license plate design honoring Arizona beekeepers.

We’re crossing our fingers — but not holding our breath — that the Request to Speak system works like a charm next week because it feels like we’re using dial-up internet when we try to load bills for these roundups these days.

Next week looks to be a marathon. Friday, Feb. 18, is the last day to hear bills in their chamber of origin, so expect to see the House and Senate speed through the remaining bills before they need to cross over to the other chamber.

If you want to know all of these deadlines, the House has their calendar here, and the Senate’s is here

And if you’re new to the legislative process, or if you just get lost in all the rigamarole, we just released a zine that steps you through the way a bill becomes a law, and the various ways political gamesmanship can mess it up.  

Take a look at some of the lengthy agendas for Monday already: Senate Government has dozens of bills to hear, many of which relate to changing election laws (including a strike-everything amendment that would refer voter ID law changes to the ballot this November). 

On Tuesday, keep an eye on Senate Appropriations (border fence construction! early ballots!), but also check out House Natural Resources, Energy and Water for a change of pace, as the committee is set to hear a few bills related to water management and groundwater as dwindling supplies continue to tax certain parts of the state. 

If you’re a fiend for discussing taxes, Wednesday is your bread and butter. You’ll want to tune in to House Ways and Means and toggle that with Senate Finance, both of which will discuss various tax exemptions. And in the afternoon, there’s House Transportation, where a new special license plate will be discussed because it wouldn’t be an Arizona legislative session without another option for license plates. 

You can expect some long Committees of the Whole and floor calendars, too. It’s just that time of year.

Our favorite used-book bonanza is back this year! This weekend, at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, you can (lovingly) compete with other readers to find killer scores on books that benefit local nonprofits at the 65th annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association's used book sale.

It’s on Saturday and Sunday, and all the details are here. If you get there early on Saturday, you’ll probably have to wait in a line, but you’ll get first crack at the loot. Some people like that, some people don’t. Plan accordingly

We’re with Jen on this: Friends don’t let friends gatekeep a great used book sale. 

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