On Tuesday, the Superior Court of Maricopa County scheduled a hearing for Dec. 2 to address whether the court should hold the Arizona Senate in contempt for failing to release records related to the partisan election “audit” of Maricopa County.
At issue are “audit” documents in the possession of lead contractor Cyber Ninjas, which the court has previously ordered the Senate to produce in response to American Oversight’s open records requests and litigation. Thus far, the Senate has made only limited productions, stating that Cyber Ninjas has refused to hand over documents in its custody.
In Tuesday’s hearing, the court also addressed a second issue in the lawsuit: The Arizona Senate’s argument that certain records are subject to legislative privilege and may be withheld from the public. On Oct. 14, the court rejected the Senate’s privilege argument and ordered the documents released. The Senate had asked the court to grant a stay of that order to allow it to file an appeal, but on Tuesday the court denied the stay request.
“Despite their attorney’s insistence that this is ‘not the Senate’s problem,’ the Senate has been ordered repeatedly and unambiguously to release these records,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight’s executive director. “Every day they fail to do so makes their disregard for the public and the law more obvious.”
In May, American Oversight sued the Arizona Senate for failing to release documents related to the “audit” of Maricopa County ballots. Throughout the litigation, American Oversight has defeated the Senate’s arguments that it cannot be compelled to comply with the public records laws and that records in the possession of its agent, Cyber Ninjas, are outside the scope of the law.
American Oversight has obtained thousands of pages of records detailing the audit’s partisan origins and anti-democratic practices. Many of those documents have been heavily redacted or withheld by the Senate under claims of legislative privilege — a narrow legal exemption to the disclosure of public records intended to protect deliberations over proposed legislation.
The court also scheduled a Nov. 29 status conference to discuss the issues and evidence to be addressed at the Dec. 2 contempt hearing. The Nov. 29 status conference is set for 10 a.m. and the Dec. 2 contempt hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Arizona time. That hearing will address whether the Senate has met its legal obligations to obtain and produce records and whether any shortcomings in their efforts justify the Senate being held in contempt of court.
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