Wadsack throws barbs at Arizona State Bar, refuses to offer any proof
GOP lawmaker claims Bar threatened attorneys to stop them from taking COVID-19 cases
Republican state Sen. Justine Wadsack has proposed a law based on claims that the State Bar told lawyers they would be disbarred if they took COVID-19 related court cases. But Wadsack wants you to take her word for it, as she refused to provide any evidence of those claims to lawmakers or to the Arizona Mirror.
Wadsack's Senate Bill 1435 would end the requirement for Arizona attorneys to be members of the State Bar of Arizona, instead moving the responsibility for licensing attorneys from the Bar to the Arizona Supreme Court.
"I had hundreds, if not over a thousand people, who tried to sue doctors, state officials, county officials, city officials who were telling them if they didn't get the COVID-19 vaccine, if they didn't mask their children in schools, if they didn't comply, that they would lose jobs or be kicked out of school," Wadsack told the Arizona House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on March 8. "The attorneys came to me telling me they were restricted from taking any of those cases because, if they did, the Arizona State Bar would immediately disbar them."
The State Bar denies this.
"The State Bar does not tell attorneys what cases they can take, nor does it advise attorneys they will be disbarred for taking certain cases, including those related to COVID-19," Jessica Sanchez, president of the State Bar's board, told the Mirror in a statement. "The Bar's role in the disciplinary system is to investigate complaints and, when warranted, make discipline recommendations. The Supreme Court imposes discipline, not the Bar."
Wadsack refused to supply proof of her claims when Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz asked her to do so during the March 8 meeting.
"I don't owe you anything in the way of proof," Wadsack told Ortiz.
When the Arizona Mirror asked Wadsack for the names of attorneys who had received this directive from the State Bar, she refused, saying in a brief March 10 interview that she promised she wouldn't share their names to prevent them from being doxxed. She added that she didn't have any documentation, such as emails that could be redacted to exclude the lawyer's name, to offer as proof.
"I'm not going to throw those people under the bus," Wadsack said. "Of course, the media is going to twist this all around."
'I don't owe you anything in the way of proof.' – Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, when asked for evidence of the claims underlying her bill
Wadsack said she didn't know why everyone wanted proof of her claims, when conservative lawyers have sought to get away from the State Bar for years.
Ortiz told the committee that she found Wadsack's statements that she didn't have to provide proof "disturbing..
"If there are allegations of the State Bar instructing attorneys on which cases to take and not to take, there should be evidence of that somewhere. And if we need to look into that further, I'm happy to, but the evidence was not presented," Ortiz said.
Chris DeRose, a Phoenix lawyer and former senior counsel in the Arizona Attorney General's Office during Mark Brnovich's tenure, told the Mirror that Wadsack's claims were untrue.
"It's utter and complete nonsense, with no basis in fact or reality," DeRose said. "The State Bar has never tried to tell its members what kinds of cases it can and can't take."
DeRose, a Republican, pointed out that if the State Bar told him he couldn't take a certain type of case, he would make a complaint about it to the state Supreme Court. Wadsack didn't mention any such complaints when speaking about the bill or in her interview with the Mirror.
Kory Langhofer, another Republican attorney, said he never received any communication from the State Bar about COVID-19 cases, and that he didn't hear from colleagues who'd gotten directives on the matter from the Bar either.
"This is literally the first time I'm hearing about it," Langhofer told the Mirror.
'It's utter and complete nonsense, with no basis in fact or reality.' — Attorney Chris DeRose
During the Judiciary Committee meeting, Ortiz suggested that perhaps lawyers weren't taking the cases of Wadsack's constituents because the attorneys didn't believe those cases would do well in court.
Scottsdale Republican Rep. Alex Kolodin, a member of the Judiciary Committee and an attorney, said that much of what Wadsack said about the State Bar rang true to him.
He added that he would much prefer to be judged by the members of the Supreme Court, who were appointed to their seats by the governor, than members of the State Bar's board, who he said often have different politics than him.
Sanchez, the State Bar president, pointed out that the Bar investigates complaints about Arizona attorneys and makes disciplinary recommendations to the Supreme Court, when warranted.
"The Supreme Court imposes discipline, not the Bar," Sanchez said. "The bill sponsor's stated purpose behind the legislation is to fix a problem that does not exist."
Both the State Bar of Arizona and the Arizona Judicial Council are opposed to Wadsack's bill.
Liana Garcia, a lobbyist for the Arizona Judicial Council, told the committee that the State Bar's purpose is to protect the citizens of Arizona from lawyers who act unethically.
"The vast majority of complaints about lawyers are not about political cases," Garcia said.
Instead, complaints are mostly from people who feel their lawyer has treated them unfairly, has been unresponsive in representing them or think they have been overcharged.
While Wadsack said that her bill would move attorney licensing responsibility from the State Bar to the Supreme Court, the court already handles initial licensing. The State Bar takes over regulation once attorneys are admitted.
Senate Bill 1435 won approval by the House Judiciary Committee on a 5-3 vote, along party lines. It will next go to the House floor to be considered by the full chamber.