Brewer cuts legal funds for Mathis

Justices may hear both sides on firing of redistricting chief
2011-11-05T00:00:00Z Brewer cuts legal funds for MathisHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
November 05, 2011 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - The Brewer administration has cut off funding for the attorney for the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission even as she is fighting her firing by the governor.

"Colleen Mathis is no longer a state employee," gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said Friday. "Under what grounds would we continue funding her legal defense?"

Mathis and the full commission contend her firing on Tuesday was illegal. They want the Arizona Supreme Court to rule the governor exceeded her legal authority in dismissing Mathis, and the Senate acted illegally in ratifying Brewer's decision.

But Benson said his boss stands by her action, believes it was authorized, that Mathis is out, "and the state is not in a position to fund her legal activity."

Paul Charlton, the attorney the commission hired to represent Mathis, said he cannot discuss anything about his fees. But he said the state's premise will be proven wrong.

"My opinion ... is that she is the chair of the IRC," Charlton said, predicting the state's high court ultimately will side with Mathis.

The move to cut Charlton's funding comes as Mary O'Grady, who represents the full commission, asked the Supreme Court Friday to let Mathis continue to serve while the legality of her firing is debated. She said the actions by Brewer and the Republican-controlled Senate amount to a "political power grab" that voters specifically sought to prevent when creating the commission in 2000 to remove redistricting from the political arena.

Late Friday, the justices gave Brewer and the Republican senators until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to O'Grady's plea, with O'Grady then getting until noon the following day to counter any arguments. Justice Scott Bales will have a separate discussion with the lawyers Monday on how quickly the case will proceed.

O'Grady said the legal fees problem could be solved if the Supreme Court grants her motion, meaning Mathis remains a state employee for the time being and Charlton can continue billing the state. But if the court declines - and Mathis is presumed ousted during the legal fight - O'Grady said that presents a different problem.

The constitutional amendment that created the commission to draw congressional and legislative boundaries gives the governor the power to remove any member for "gross misconduct" or "substantial neglect of duties." In her dismissal letter to Mathis, Brewer said she was guilty of both, citing what the governor said were violations of the Open Meeting Law and failure to comply with constitutional requirements in how the maps were drawn.

But O'Grady, in legal papers filed Friday, said there is no conceivable way that any of Mathis' actions fit either definition.

Benson said the fact the phrases allowing removal are not defined in law means "it's left to the discretion of the governor." He said as long as Brewer informed Mathis of the charges, gave her a chance to respond, and got the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, that makes the governor's actions legal and beyond the reach of the Supreme Court.

"Removal from office is a political check, it's not a judicial check," Benson said. "Courts have no authority to intervene in this case as long as the removal is procedurally handled."

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs said there was evidence to support Brewer's decision. He recited a litany of allegations, including lining up votes ahead of time for a consulting contract, failing to disclose her husband was the treasurer for a Democratic candidate for the Legislature, and presenting a proposed map that failed to follow constitutional procedures.

"In this instance, the body of work of Ms. Mathis rises to the level ... of gross misconduct and substantial neglect of duty," Biggs said.

The legal maneuvering comes as a separate screening panel is set to meet Monday to begin the process of replacing Mathis. The law requires that committee to nominate five people, who are neither Republicans nor Democrats, with the final choice up to the remaining four commissioners who are members of both parties.

"Removal from office is a political check, it's not a judicial check. Courts have no authority to intervene in this case as long as the removal is procedurally handled."

Matthew Benson, gubernatorial press aide

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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