New Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes issued a press release last month criticizing her predecessor, Republican Mark Brnovich, for disagreeing with two of his employees on whether there was election fraud in the 2020 midterm election. As a result of her press release, 17 people filed bar complaints against him, including Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. Jennifer Wright, who served as the Arizona Attorney General Office’s (AGO) Election Integrity Unit (EIU) civil attorney, denounced Mayes for the move and asked the Arizona Supreme Court to investigate whether Mayes violated ethics rules by releasing attorney-client privileged work to the public.
In a March 13 letter addressed to Justice Bill Montgomery as the chair of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force on Ethics Rules Governing the State Attorney General, County Attorneys, and Other Public Lawyers, Wright referenced Mayes’ position on the task force and said, “I encourage the Task Force to inquire as to what Rule of Professional Conduct Ms. Mayes relied upon to justify waiving her predecessor’s attorney-client privilege and publicly releasing privileged materials.”
She added, “Ms. Mayes’ unprecedented and dubious release of a subset of cherry-picked privileged materials sets a dangerous precedent that threatens all public officials’ attorney-client relationships. A public official should not abuse his or her office to unilaterally waive a predecessor’s privilege to wage a political attack or attempt to damage the professional reputation of a government lawyer.”
She tweeted that weaponizing the state bar has become such a problem that a new state law was implemented last year requiring the state bar to pay attorney fees and other costs if the organization seeks to discipline a lawyer and loses.
Wright criticized Mayes last month on Twitter after Mayes’ press release came out for only releasing a small part of the AGO’s investigation into election fraud from the AGO’s criminal division while ignoring Wright’s work on the civil side of the EIU. Along with her press release, Mayes released suggested comments that one of the employees made to the letter drafted by Brnovich to then-Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) about election fraud in the 2020 election, that Brnovich decided not to include. A report authored by another employee was never released because Brnovich thought it was not complete due to Maricopa County refusing to cooperate and turn over information.
Wright did not agree with the two employees in the criminal division who found little evidence of potential wrongdoing and said Maricopa County cooperated with their investigation. Wright has been very vocal about sending four letters to Maricopa County demanding information about the 2020 election but was ignored.
Wright said the changes the criminal division wanted Brnovich to make to his letter to Fann included stating that Maricopa County had cooperated with the AGO’s investigation. But if he had said that, it would have disregarded Wright’s experience with the county’s lack of cooperation, Wright said.
She tweeted Tuesday, “[D]espite widespread claims that the letter issued by @GeneralBrnovich conflicted with the criminal division’s findings, that’s a complete and total misrepresentation of the released report.”
Wright summed up how she saw the problem.
“The reality is, issues related to 2020 are nuanced. Some concerns may not rise to criminality, but instead reveal gaps in laws that the @AZHouseGOP and @AZSenateGOP should address through legislation (like signature verification standards & chain of custody),” she tweeted.
She said, “It’s not for me to say what rises to the level of a prosecutable criminal offense (I’m a civil gal), but what infuriates me is the narrative that @GeneralBrnovich withheld evidence (he didn’t) while he was objectively more than fair to Maricopa.”
What concerned Wright was criminal violations of the state’s Election Procedures Manual (EPM). She tweeted, “What’s been ignored by all is that the criminal division report found that in 2020, Maricopa VIOLATED 5 provisions of the EPM. According to A.R.S. 16-452(c), violating the EPM is a class 2 misdemeanor.”
Wright suggested that the criminal division’s findings, which she was unaware of until Mayes’ press release, reveal that Maricopa County likely was not cooperating with that side of the office either, despite claims to the contrary. “And, notwithstanding criminal’s suggestion Maricopa was cooperative, criminal’s report issued prior to the Fann letter had 7 allegations with a finding listed as ‘undetermined’ ‘pending a date to review’ county data & records,” she tweeted, linking to the criminal division’s report and including screenshots of the “undetermined” conclusions.
Wright also stated that she was unaware until Mayes’ press release that the criminal division had also discovered Maricopa County’s use of electronic signature verification systems, something she had asked the county repeatedly about but not received an answer. Wright was concerned AI was being used to verify signatures, which could be a problem since it could be set to a very low recognition standard, allowing bad signatures to go through.
In April of last year, Brnovich said on Bannon’s War Room show that an attorney for the county admitted AI was used to verify signatures in the 2020 election. A final canvass report from the county for the 2022 election revealed that 14 times more signatures were rejected than the 2020 general election.
Wright echoed her previous unease in the letter to Fann that the county was providing voter registration files and voter signatures to a private third party, Runbeck Election Systems. She also brought up “concerns over Early Ballot Drop Boxes and violations of not only ballot transportation procedures, but also failure to maintain chain of custody.”
In her letter to Montgomery, Wright asked for the task force to address Mayes’ actions at the next task force meeting on March 21. She concluded her letter by hinting that the state bar may want to investigate Mayes.
“It would be prudent for the State Bar to await the recommendations and findings of your Task Force before prematurely evaluating the merits of any complaints that stem from Ms. Mayes’ conduct — which is itself likely unethical,” she said.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jennifer Wright” by Jennifer Wright. Photo “Kris Mayes” by Kris Mayes for Arizona. Background Photo “Arizona State Capitol Building” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.