Ariz. state senator allegedly beat girlfriend by roadside, claims immunity

Mar 7 2011 - 5:57pm

PHOENIX  -- The state Senate's majority leader refused to resign from the Legislature on Monday as he drew bipartisan criticism over a roadside altercation with a woman who was his girlfriend at the time.

The Senate Ethics Committee's chairman and another Republican senator said 43-year-old Peoria Republican Scott Bundgaard should temporarily give up his leadership post because of the Feb. 25 alleged domestic violence incident, while several Democratic senators called for Bundgaard to leave the Legislature entirely or face an ethics investigation.

"What we're asking for is a higher level of concern for the institution," said Sen. Paula Aboud, a Tucson Democrat who called Bundgaard's conduct reprehensible. "That's what we're asking for Sen. Bundgaard to do -- to step down."

In brief remarks to reporters after a Senate floor session, Bundgaard said he expects to clear his name. He said the Democrats' call for him to resign was politically motivated and that it was inappropriate for the Ethics Committee Chairman Ron Gould to comment on the situation "because he's supposed to be unbiased."

Gould, of Lake Havasu City, was one of two Senate Republicans who had criticized Bundgaard in interviews earlier Monday.

"Getting into a fistfight on the side of the highway with his girlfriend" is conduct unbecoming of a senator, Gould said.

The other Republican, Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa, also called for Bundgaard to quit his leadership post, saying his conduct damaged the reputations of the Senate and its Republican majority.

It doesn't matter that Bundgaard hasn't been arrested, let alone convicted of a crime, Crandall said. "In theory we're held to a higher standard as elected officials."

Gould and Crandall said many of the 21 Republican senators want Bundgaard to step down as leader.

Sen. John Nelson, R-Litchfield Park, declined to discuss Bundgaard's situation but said he wants Republican senators to discuss it during a regularly scheduled caucus Tuesday.

Several other Republican senators declined to comment, and aides said Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, did not have time to speak with reporters.

Pearce last week voiced support for Bundgaard, referring to the other leader in a newspaper interview as a "victim."

The Democrats said they are troubled by what they read in a police report about Bundgaard's conduct during the altercation with 34-year-old Aubry Ballard. They said they're also troubled that Bundgaard reportedly invoked a partial temporary legislative immunity to avoid being arrested while Ballard was booked into jail overnight.

Sen. Linda Lopez of Tucson said remaining silent would amount to condoning domestic violence. And Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor of Phoenix said an ethics investigation is appropriate because of the immunity issue and the serious nature of the incident.

Gould said he's willing to have an ethics investigation but doesn't want to do anything that could taint any future criminal proceedings, which might not begin until months from now, after the legislative session ends. The committee may meet to consider what to do and when to do it, Gould said.

Bundgaard last week denied invoking the constitutional immunity that generally bars arrests of legislators during sessions, and he has said he didn't do anything wrong.

Bundgaard and Ballard have said they argued while driving home in the senator's gold Mercedes after a charity event, but they offered conflicting accounts on what else happened on state Route 51 in north Phoenix.

According to the report, an off-duty police officer who witnessed part of the incident told investigating officers he saw a man pushing or pulling a woman next to the passenger door of a car and that the woman fell to the ground while the man had his hands on her.

"We have a senator who dragged or pushed his girlfriend on Highway 51 as witnessed by a police officer and continued to have his hands on her," Landrum Taylor said, citing information in the report. "Certainly this is more than egregious in nature."

Bundgaard said during a Feb. 28 floor speech to the Senate that he waived any immunity, thought police could have arrested him if they believed he had done something wrong, and didn't contend he was "above the law."

While speaking with officers at the scene, Bundgaard invoked the temporary and partial immunity from arrest, police said.

The constitutional immunity, legally called a "privilege" from arrest, states that Arizona legislators cannot be arrested during or immediately before legislative sessions in cases other than treason, felony and breach of the peace. It does not bar prosecutions after a session.

Ballard was arrested on suspicion of assault, but the charge was later dropped in a manner that allows it to be refiled.

The police report said Bundgaard had a bruised right eye, a small cut underneath it and a swollen lip. Ballard had bruising on her chest, a cut on her right knee and a scrape on her right hand, the report said.

The couple later issued a joint statement saying they had ended their relationship.

 

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