Then-Speaker Messnard lost immunity in his drive to oust Rep. Shooter

From left are J.D. Mesnard and Don Shooter

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services 

State lawmakers have absolute immunity from being sued by those who are the targets of legislative investigative reports, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

In a unanimous decision, the justices said that ousted Rep. Don Shooter has no legal right to pursue a defamation lawsuit against then-House Speaker J.D. Mesnard for publishing a report by an outside legal team that concluded the Yuma Republican was guilty of violating a “zero tolerance” policy against sexual harassment. Justice Ann Scott Timmer, writing for the court, said ordering the report and then releasing it is an official legislative function for which lawmakers are constitutionally entitled to immunity. 

But the justices said that lawmakers lose that immunity when they start publishing press releases about what they do. And that includes writing about and explaining the official report. 

“A legislator who issues a news release does not perform a legislative function but instead engages in a political act,” Timmer wrote. And she brushed aside Mesnard’s contention that the release was simply designed to explain his decision to ask the full House to expel Shooter, saying that was not necessary.

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