Republican-controlled Arizona Senate argues for secrecy of 2020 election review records

Oct 7, 2021, 6:00 PM
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, speaks during a news conference after the Arizona ...

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, speaks during a news conference after the Arizona Senate Republican hearing on the review of findings in the 2020 election results in Maricopa County at the Arizona Capitol, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Phoenix. The final report of the election review found that President Joe Biden did indeed win the 2020 presidential contest. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX (AP) — A lawyer for the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate told a judge Thursday that he would cause permanent damage to the legislative process if he requires lawmakers to release records about their private deliberations over the Senate GOP’s review of the 2020 election.

The Senate has released tens of thousands of public records but is withholding about 1,000 that lawmakers say are subject to legislative privilege. Forcing their disclosure will prevent lawmakers in the future from candidly discussing their positions as they work out the best policies for the state, Senate attorney Kory Langhofer argued.

“It will do lasting damage to the quality of discussion and argument behind closed doors in the Legislature,” Langhofer said. “That is definitely not in the state’s interest.”

Langhofer said there are about 1,000 documents the Senate considers privileged. He said they include discussions of whether the review is a good idea and whether it should be stopped or expanded.

Maricopa County Superior Court judge Michael Kemp said he’d rule “within the next few business days.” He’s overseeing one of two public records lawsuits filed over the Senate’s unprecedented partisan election review, which was led by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based cybersecurity consulting firm.

Legislative privilege doesn’t apply to the records because they are not tied to debate over specific legislation or legislative functions, said Keith Beauchamp, a lawyer for American Oversight, a government watchdog group that filed the lawsuit. He said the Senate hasn’t proven that disclosing the records would impair the deliberative process.

“There is no business before the Senate and there has been no business during the period when these documents were created,” Beauchamp said.

Langhofer argues that the review will inform the Senate’s future election legislation.

Similar issues are at stake in another suit brought by the parent company of The Arizona Republic. Kemp is also considering a request by Langhofer to merge the cases, which American Oversight and the Arizona Republic both oppose.

The hearing came the same day that Maricopa County officials testified at a hearing of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee focused on the Senate’s election review.

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Republican-controlled Arizona Senate argues for secrecy of 2020 election review records