Last week, we agreed to the appointment of former Judge David Cole to serve as a Special Master to review the thousands of text messages found on Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump’s iPhone. On the same day as the announcement by Attorney General Brnovich about Corporation Commission Chair Susan Bitter Smith, we were briefed by our attorney, Dan Barr, who advised us on the next steps in our lawsuit. We thought our readers would want to know.
What Happens Next?
Soon, investigators from the Arizona Attorney General’s office will provide the text messages they have found to Judge Cole, accompanied by a spreadsheet. Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) has previously told the Attorney General’s Office and has stated in its lawsuit that it seeks access only to those text messages between Commissioner Stump and 18 people, all of whom do business with the Corporation Commission. Judge Cole will determine which of those messages are public records. The Attorney General’s office will also provide a letter to Judge Cole outlining how they downloaded the text messages from Stump’s phone.
The Corporation Commission’s legal staff or Commissioner Stump’s attorney may then claim that some of the text messages are private or confidential, or perhaps even protected by the attorney-client privilege. If such claims are made, C&BP will answer them in a court filing and Judge Cole will then rule on those claims and release the responsive text messages accordingly.
20 Day Later
Twenty days after the texts have been provided to us, the Commission must answer our complaint that was filed on Oct. 28, 2015.
One of the issues before Superior Court Judge Randall Warner may then be whether the downloading of texts from the phone by the AG investigators is sufficient and complete. Did they do a thorough enough search? We will be able to match records to the text logs.
Despite the surprising veto power that the Commission would seem to have, that is where the previously-released metadata will come in very handy. As C&BP readers will remember, the logs show an extensive pattern in dark money electoral schemes that Stump has mockingly referred to as arranging symphony tickets or exclusively personal or innocent in nature.
If the text messages that are public records have gone missing from the phone because Commissioner Stump was successful in deleting them, then he will be in violation of public records law for his destruction of records. This is the second claim in C&BP’s lawsuit.
Scott Peterson is executive director of the Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.