AZ Attorney General Kris Mayes Facing State Bar Complaint

June 5, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

Days after Republican legislators warned of possible ethical repercussions over Democrat Attorney General Kris Mayes’ public statements against the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, a private citizen filed a formal complaint against Arizona’s top prosecutor.

On May 31, according to a document received and reviewed by AZ Free News, Charlie Schinke of Chandler filed a charge against Attorney General Mayes with the State Bar of Arizona.

Schinke requests “that the Bar Counsel initiate an investigation to determine whether attorney (and Attorney General) Kristin K. Mayes has breached the foundational duties of loyalty and confidentiality she owes to her clients, in violation of Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6 and 1.7.” The Chandler resident writes, “In just the last month, Ms. Mayes appeared on television to threaten one of her clients with an investigation that could carry potential criminal dimensions, and publicly admonished another client in letters that she distributed in a press release.” He asserts that “the Attorney General serves state agencies as a counselor and confidante; she does not (and cannot) control, regulate or punish them.”

The two allegations that Schinke uses to base his complaint, are Mayes’ April 17 letter to Director Thomas Buschatzke of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, where she “launched into an extended critique of the agency’s studies of so-called active management areas and demanded that Director Buschatzke supply her with documentation evidencing the agency’s compliance with its responsibilities;” and her May 21 interview, in which Mayes “announced that her office ‘is going to be looking at fraud, waste and abuse in the universal school voucher program.’”

Schinke cites Arizona case law that reflects the lawful containment of the Attorney General’s duties, highlighting a portion of Brnovich v. Arizona Board of Regents, which says, “In Arizona, unlike some other states, the Attorney General has no inherent or common law authority… [T]he authority of the Attorney General must be found in statute.” He writes that “the legislature has designated the Attorney General the ‘chief legal officer of the state,’ and in that capacity she is ‘the legal advisor of the departments of this state and [must] render such legal services as the departments require.’”

The author of the complaint ends his letter to the State Bar with two charges, stating, “Attorney General Mayes’ public criticisms of, and threats to investigate her clients are inconsistent with her duties of confidentiality and loyalty.”

Schinke reminded the Bar about a previous case it considered. In that case, former Attorney General Mark Brnovich faced charges due to allegations that “his public criticisms of, and adverse legal actions against, the agency violated his ethical responsibilities.” Schinke ends his letter, pleading with the Bar to exercise the “same scrutiny” with Attorney General Mayes “that her predecessor received,” adding a line about the “Bar’s self-professed commitment to non-partisanship.”

Schinke’s letter comes just six days after a bicameral group of Republican lawmakers, led by Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, transmitted a letter to Mayes, demanding that she “publicly retract (her) patently false statements attacking ESAs and impugning the motives of thousands of parents that use ESAs to provide the best education for their children.” In their letter, the legislators write: “Of course, Arizona’s Ethical Rules do not tolerate the initiation of criminal proceedings absent probable cause to believe that any parent has committed a crime. See Arizona Ethical Rule 3.8 (listing the special ethical responsibilities of a prosecutor). Further, it would raise ethical questions if a government attorney were to publicly insinuate that a current client is engaging in misconduct with no factual basis. See, e.g., Arizona Ethical Rule 1.7 (imposing a duty of loyalty to a current client).”

Mayes does not appear to have publicly commented on the complaint.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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