Arizona ethics panel tosses complaint state Sen. Wendy Rogers

Mar 2, 2021, 4:00 PM
wendy rogers arizona senator...
Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers (Facebook Photo/Wendy Rogers)
(Facebook Photo/Wendy Rogers)

PHOENIX (AP) — A divided Arizona Senate’s Ethics Committee on Tuesday dismissed a complaint against a Republican lawmaker who was accused by her former assistant of berating and cursing him during a tirade, making comment about his weight, asking him to do political work and to work while he was out sick recovering from the coronavirus.

The three Republicans on the panel agreed that the evidence collected during an investigation by the committee’s attorney did not meet the “clear and convincing” standard required to sustain the complaint and mete out punishment to Sen. Wendy Rogers.

The two Democrats disagreed, saying there was ample evidence that Rogers yelled and cursed at the assistant and repeatedly asked him to work while he was out sick. They said dismissing the complaint sends the wrong message.

“I think to dismiss this matter would be to ignore this conduct at this point,” Democratic Sen. Kirsten Engel said. “I think it reflects badly on the Senate, it sends a bad message to the public about how we conduct ourselves here in the people’s Senate.”

But the Republican members said holding another hearing to allow Rogers and her former aide, Michael Polloni Jr., to testify would not generate additional information and there simply wasn’t enough evidence to discipline Rogers. The panel could have asked the full Senate to reprimand, censure or expel Rogers, who is a freshman lawmaker from Flagstaff.

“The evidence leads me to believe we do not have clear and convincing evidence to move forward at all,” said GOP Sen. Vince Leach of Tucson.

The committee hearing came after a investigation by a Senate lawyer found little corroboration for some of Polloni’s complaints. But the Senate attorney who investigated found backing for Polloni’s contention that Rogers raised her voice and cursed during a heated confrontation in her office.

Rogers was accused in January of berating Polloni, making comments about his weight and other issues. Polloni also accused the state senator of taking his belongings, breaking an Eagle Scout plaque and later cursing at him during a heated Jan. 14 tirade. He was fired that day.

Polloni’s attorney, Adam Kwasman, criticized Tuesday’s decision was political.

“The most important part was the report, not what the Ethics Committee does with Wendy Rogers,” Kwasman said. “And the report shows wrongdoing by Wendy Rogers.”

Rogers gave a written response to Ethics Committee and called the allegations “a complete fabrication by an outgoing, brand new employee who worked only one official day for the state of Arizona after the swearing in of senators.”

Rogers also said the complaint contains no allegations that she either broke the law or violated Senate ethics rules.

In his detailed, six-page ethics complaint against Rogers, Polloni said she repeatedly asked him to work while he was on sick leave, demanded that he illegally do campaign work for her on state time and removed and damaged some of his belongings from his office.

He also said Rogers doubted that he actually had the virus.

Democratic Sen. Victoria Steele wanted Rogers disciplined, or at least for a hearing to be held.

“I think there are several instances where there is clear and convincing evidence of Sen. Rogers acting unethically in a way that definitely adversely effects the Senate,” Steele said. “If we simply dismiss, if we don’t at the least, at the very minimum, have a hearing to hear both sides of this, than we’re just accepting that this behavior is tolerable, this is to be expected.

Steele and Engel tried to get the panel to require Rogers to take a supervisors training course, but the Republicans on the panel declined.

Republican Sen. Sine Kerr of Buckeye, the committee chair, said there just wasn’t enough corroboration of the allegations.

“In my opinion we didn’t ignore the allegations at all,” Kerr said. “We looked at it, we discussed it thoroughly. But again, we’re charged with that very high bar of clear and convincing, and again, it didn’t meet that standard for this senator.”

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Arizona ethics panel tosses complaint state Sen. Wendy Rogers