Any doubt that a group of our state lawmakers honestly believe they are above the law was erased last week when former Lake Havasu legislator Paul Mosley went before a Justice of the Peace for exceeding the speed limit.
We’re not talking just a few miles over the posted limit. Mosley, who lost a re-election bid last November, was traveling at 97 miles an hour in a 55 mile an hour zone when he was stopped last March. He boasted to the police officer who stopped him that he has clocked 140, 130 and 120 on I-10 “when there’s no traffic around,” and he’s making the return trip home from Phoenix.
Arguing before Justice of the Peace Tiffany Dyer with two attorneys accompanying him, Mosley said his former legislative status makes him immune from prosecution — forever.
This case has a local connection. Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre was called on to determine whether Mosley’s case was exempt from prosecution, after the agency that stopped the former legislator, the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office, cited a conflict of interest.
McIntyre determined that Mosley was in fact subject to being charged and cited President Thomas Jefferson’s statement on the question.
“Legislators ought not stand above the laws they create.”
We agree completely.
Legislative immunity was added to the Arizona Constitution in the days of the Old West, when it wasn’t uncommon for a law enforcement officer, usually at the direction of a local politician, to arrest a state legislator and put them in jail for a few days to prevent them from casting a vote on a controversial issue.
Specifically, the constitution states legislators “shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, and they shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the legislature, nor for fifteen days next before the commencement of each session.”
Now Mosley and his attorneys, one of whom is Rep. David Stringer, want the passage in the Constitution to be interpreted that our lawmakers are free from prosecution forever. Rep. Stringer, the Republican from Prescott, is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for alleged racist statements made on two occasions within the past six months.
Despite Gov. Ducey’s call to eliminate legislative immunity during his State of the State address, lawmakers are not interested in ending this travesty. A bill to put an end to the practice was killed by House Speaker Rep. Rusty Bowers, a Republican from Mesa, when he purposely did not assign the initiative to a committee.
The collective failure of our lawmakers to eliminate legislative immunity paints all them with the same brush. As long as this provision of the Constitution exists, our state lawmakers will be considered “above the law” and lacking in public confidence.
When legislators aren’t subject to the same laws they create, they don’t deserve our respect.
— Published in the Herald/Review, the News-Sun’s sister publication.