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Arizona Daily Star

 

01.04.2006

 

Did Phoenix's New Times buy a subpoena? Lawmaker wants probe

 

By Howard Fischer

CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES

PHOENIX A Democratic lawmaker is going to force a Senate investigation into whether a Republican colleague has made legislative subpoenas for sale.

Sen. Bill Brotherton of Phoenix is questioning a deal where Sen. Jack Harper of Surprise issued a subpoena so an expert hired by a Phoenix news weekly could examine Maricopa County voting machines. Brotherton said that raises ethical questions of whether Harper, chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Reform and Accountability, used his legislative subpoena power to help New Times get a story one it could not get without the subpoena.

Harper defended his actions, saying he got New Times to hire Douglas Jones, a professor at the University of Iowa, only after Senate President Ken Bennett refused to provide the necessary $3,000. Harper also insisted Jones us working for him as committee chairman.

But that contention was undermined by New Times Editor Rick Barrs who said that the results of Jones' investigation belong to and will be published in his newspaper. Barrs said he is not sure whether he will even give a copy of the consultant's report to Harper.

Senate rules allow two members of that panel to demand an investigation. Brotherton said he has spoken with Senate Minority Leader Linda Aguirre, D-Phoenix, the other Democrat on the panel, and she will support his call for an inquiry.

Harper wants to find out why a recount of a Republican legislative primary last year turned up an additional 486 votes. That changed the outcome, giving the seat to John McComish instead of Anton Orlich.

In both instances the ballots were tallied by machines using optical scanning technology, though a different machine was used for the recount. Harper asked Jones to investigate. But Jones would not have had access to the equipment without Harper's legislative subpoena.

Brotherton said he has no problem with Harper seeking outside funding to hire Jones. But the cash did not go to Harper but instead from New Times directly to Jones. And Jones told Capitol Media Services he considers the newspaper and not Harper to be his employer.

"Legislative subpoena authority is being rented out,'' said Brotherton, one of two Democrats on the five member Senate Ethics Committee.

"I welcome the investigation,'' said Harper.

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