'Disorderly behavior': Democratic lawmaker could face censure, expulsion after ethics probe

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An ethics panel of Arizona lawmakers found a pattern of bad language and threats by state Rep. Leezah Sun of Phoenix broke a rule against "disorderly behavior," setting her up for possible censure or expulsion from the Legislature.

The state House Ethics Committee issued a 12-page report Tuesday that outlined its investigation of Sun, concluding that she lied in denying she threatened during a conference in Tucson she would throw a Tolleson official over a balcony and "kill her.”

The panel also found Sun responsible for other poor behavior, including using foul language and intimidation tactics during a June meeting with officials at Tolleson’s city hall; sending Instagram friend requests to the officials’ family members; interfering with a custodial dispute; threatening a school superintendent with a legislative investigation and then retaliating against the superintendent by attending a board meeting Jan. 9 to complain about his testimony about her.

Democratic leaders filed an ethics complaint against Sun in November after the series of troubling reports about her behavior. Two hearings followed in which Sun faced her accusers at the state Capitol, one in December and one on Jan. 27. Sun’s pro bono lawyer, Garrick McFadden, didn’t appear for the second hearing.

In a statement, House Democratic Leader Rep. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, thanked the ethics committee for its “diligent, intensive and transparent” work on the report. He also thanked the witnesses "who came forward to share their stories under incredibly difficult circumstances.”

Leezah Sun, a Democrat, represents Legislative District 22 in the Arizona House.
Leezah Sun, a Democrat, represents Legislative District 22 in the Arizona House.

Sun’s behavior “damaged the reputation of the House,” Contreras said. “This is a difficult time and a difficult conversation we will have to have with our members on our next steps.”

Sun didn't immediately answer a call and text for comment about the report.

Ethics panel didn’t believe Sun

Sun, a first-term lawmaker now running for state Senate, from the beginning described the allegations against her as part of a conspiracy by politicians and city officials bent on removing her from office. She also suggested she was being accused because she's Asian. In the first hearing, she spoke of her animosity toward Tolleson officials because of their support of a former lawmaker she’d had “contention” with in the past.

But the ethics committee, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, was less concerned about her reasoning and more concerned about her actions and excuses.

The report noted she didn’t deny speaking “aggressively” with the group, but she argued she couldn’t have intimidated the Tolleson city manager during the impromptu meeting about a freeway ramp because he’s larger than she is. The ethics panel noted that her comments didn’t take into account the feelings of the two women also in the meeting, including the west Valley city’s chief government affairs officer, Pilar Sinawi.

Sinawi later heard that Sun made the “balcony” comment, telling several lobbyists at the conference she would “kill” Sinawi if she saw her. Sun has repeatedly claimed she only stated she would "b----slap" the official, not “kill” her. That’s what Sun told The Arizona Republic for a Nov. 3 article used as an exhibit in the case. Sun had also told The Republic the accusations were “nothing” to her and she was “tickled” by them, as Tuesday’s report mentioned.

After Sinawi testified in the first hearing that learning of Sun’s comment sparked worry for herself and her family, two witnesses in the second hearing told the panel they heard Sun’s “balcony” threat first-hand. Lobbyist Liz Goodman told the panel she had asked Sun for the meeting, which took place in a crowded hotel lobby during work hours. Sun's comment followed an expletive-filled diatribe against other Tolleson officials and “took us all by surprise.”

The committee didn’t find Sun’s version of events “credible,” the report stated, adding that while Sun claimed she was trying to add “levity” to the conversation, she had previously acknowledged she came to the meeting “livid” because of the legal problems of a friend. The witnesses all agreed Sun didn’t sound like she was joking, according to the report.

The Tolleson officials ultimately convinced a judge to issue a restraining order against Sun that forbids her from contacting them for one year. Sun hasn’t challenged the order.

‘Abused her position’

Ethics committee members wrote in the report they were “disturbed” by the allegation that Sun inappropriately attended a tense child-custody transfer in a Dairy Queen parking lot in June that she wasn’t a party to.

The first hearing featured court custody supervisor Kristyn Alcott, who talked about how Sun showed up as she was attempting to get a group of kids to go to a court-ordered visitation with their biological father. Sun, who’s been working with a group that opposes forced visitations, was wearing a badge or sticker identifying herself as a lawmaker and insisted on being called “Rep. Leezah Sun,” as an audio recording made by the children’s stepfather revealed. She told Alcott the transfer attempt was finished, that she knew Alcott didn’t have a “really good track record” and that she was being watched.

The only part of the story Sun disputed was that she invoked state Attorney General Kris Mayes’ name during the incident, as Alcott claims she did, the report pointed out.

“Sun seemingly suggested during her committee testimony that she had actually elected to intervene in the transfer and prevent the fulfillment of the court order because she was a state representative and did not know that she was ‘not allowed” to supplant a court order,” the report stated. “This reasoning illustrates an abuse of the bounds of power entrusted to a member of the legislative branch.”

Her interactions with Littleton Elementary School District Superintendent Roger Freeman added further evidence of a pattern of Sun abusing her office, the report said.

She made the appointment with him in December 2022 specifically as a legislator wanting to talk with a constituent about possible legislation, the report noted. Talk soon turned to her displeasure with the school board president, who had made critical comments in a newspaper about a young Littleton board member she was mentoring, Markus Ceniceros.

When Freeman tried to resolve the situation, he testified in the first hearing, Sun turned on him and threatened him with a state investigation, which she claimed she could launch for “any reason.”

Sun claims Freeman’s memory of the conversation is faulty.

Following Freeman’s testimony, Sun showed up at Littleton’s Jan. 9 school board meeting to complain about him.

“The committee finds that this was an act of retaliation against the superintendent and that the totality of circumstances surrounding this incident supports the Committee's finding of a pattern of abusing her official title and position,” the report stated.

Vote on punishment could come this week

The House can't tolerate what Sun did because such actions, the report concluded. Her behaviour "erodes trust in the legislative process."

The House’s 60 Republicans and Democrats will decide what punishment, if any, Sun should receive. A censure would require a simple majority vote, while expulsion would take a two-thirds majority vote. A motion for a vote could come Wednesday or Thursday when the House meets for its floor session.

Ethics investigations and punishment have become routine in the House, which voted last year to expel Chandler Republican Liz Harris from office over election disinformation and censure Tucson Democrat Stephanie Stahl Hamilton for the “prank” of hiding two House bibles under seat cushions and in a refrigerator.

Reach the reporter at rstern@arizonarepublic.com or 480-276-3237. Follow him on X @raystern.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Rep. Leezah Sun could face censure, expulsion after ethics report