Bill advances to keep high court, Bar from disciplining attorneys in certain cases

By Jill Ryan
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Thursday, March 16, 2023 - 1:35pm
Updated: Thursday, March 16, 2023 - 1:36pm

Judges across the country are holding attorneys responsible for filing frivolous lawsuits. In Arizona, this has included numerous lawsuits over the 2020 and 2022 false claims of election fraud.

Now, the House Judiciary Committee has advanced a bill (SB 1092) that would prevent the State Bar and the Arizona Supreme Court from penalizing attorneys, or their clients for this type of behavior. If the court were to violate the bill, it would lose 10% of its budget — a figure an attorney for the court said would equal $5.8 million.

Republican Sen. Anthony Kern sponsored the bill. He claims it would protect free speech.

But Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz pointed to Kern’s possible conflict of interest.

“I understand that you had a lawsuit brought against former Representative Charlene Fernandez accusing her of defamation for asking questions about your role in the January 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol. Did that lawsuit at all inspire you to file this bill this year?" Ortiz asked.

"Absolutely not,"  Kern responded.

Kern’s lawyers have been ordered to pay $75,000 in legal fees after he and two other lawmakers filed what a judge concluded was a frivolous lawsuit against another legislator.

The 5-3 party-line vote to advance Kern's legislation came despite testimony from attorney Liana Garcia who lobbies for the Arizona Judicial Council, an arm of the Arizona Supreme Court.

She pointed out that any move to financially penalize the court system over what Kern's bill considers unacceptable discipline would not affect the judges involved, as their salaries are set by state law. Instead, Garcia said, the only ones who would be hurt are those who seek the services of the court.

Also, Republican Rep. Alexander Kolodin said the measure would essentially require the Supreme Court to determine if it had violated the terms of SB 1092 in disciplining an attorney. He said that is likely unworkable, suggesting that if the legislation goes forward there might need to be a mechanism for something like a "special master" who would have the final say.

The bill now goes to the full House.