Smith v. Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission – 5/8/2006

May 8, 2006

Arizona Supreme Court Affirms Decision Removing State Legislator From Office for Campaign Spending Violations.

David Burnell Smith was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2004 after running as a publicly funded candidate. An investigation revealed that he had overspent public campaign spending limits by approximately seventeen percent. The Arizona Clean Elections Commission, therefore, determined that Smith should forfeit his office. Following an administrative review and decisions of the superior court and court of appeals, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on January 26, 2006, to affirm the superior court’s decision removing Smith from office. This opinion explained that decision.

First, the court rejected Smith’s claim to constitutional immunity under Article 4, Part 2, Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, which provides that legislators are not “subject to any civil process” during legislative sessions. Because Smith had invoked the jurisdiction of the courts, he could not claim immunity from the action that he himself had taken to prevent his immediate removal from office under the Commission’s order.

The court also rejected Smith’s claim that, pursuant to Article 8, Part 2, Section 1 of the Arizona Constitution, he could be removed from office only by “impeachment or recall.” Citing State ex rel. DeConcini v. Sullivan, 66 Ariz. 348, 355 (1948), the court held that Article 8, Part 2 does not provide the exclusive means of removal from public office. The public, acting in its legislative capacity, had authorized removal from public office as a sanction for serious violations of campaign finance laws, see A.R.S. § 16-942(C), and Smith’s removal was not precluded by the Arizona Constitution.

Smith’s failure to timely appeal the Commission decision under A.R.S. § 16-957(B) was not excused by the fact that he was afforded an administrative review process beyond the filing deadline, or that he timely filed a motion for administrative rehearing. The failure to timely file was not excused as acceptably “premature” because the case did not fall within the narrow exception to the final judgment rule that allows an early notice of appeal to be filed after a trial court has made its final decision but not yet entered a final order if the court’s remaining task is merely ministerial. Because failure to timely request judicial review meant that no questions of fact remained, Smith was not entitled to a jury trial under Article 2, Section 23 of the Arizona Constitution on the Attorney General’s request for a writ of quo warranto to remove Smith from office. The constitutional guarantee only preserved the right to jury trial that existed at common law, Derendal v. Griffith, 209 Ariz. 416, 419 ¶ 8 (2005), and the right to jury trial has never extended to civil cases that turn on uncontested facts.

Finally, Smith could not bring the action as a stand-alone complaint independent of his challenges to the Commission’s rulings against him. Smith was required to raise all of his challenges to the Commission’s action and related constitutional claims in a timely complaint for judicial review under the Judicial Review of Administrative Decisions Act, A.R.S. §§ 12-901 to –914.