Rep. Leezah Sun resigns from the Arizona House

By Wayne Schutsky
Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2024 - 10:22am
Updated: Thursday, February 1, 2024 - 7:56am

Leezah Sun stands behind a podium outdoors at the Arizona state capitol. She is wearing two buttons on her red shirt and her long hair is swept to one side. She is speaking and not looking directly at the camera.
Kirsten Dorman/KJZZ
State Rep. Leezah Sun, a Democrat, spoke to a group at the Arizona Capitol about repealing the state's "right to work" laws on Oct. 25, 2023.

Rep. Leezah Sun resigned from the Arizona House of Representatives on Wednesday shortly before lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a motion to expel her. 

A House Ethics committee issued a report yesterday finding Sun engaged in disorderly behavior in violation of House rules after Democratic leadership filed a complaint against her over accusations she threatened a city of Tolleson employee and other allegations that she abused her office. 

Minority Leader Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale) was prepared to introduce a resolution to expel Sun, which would have required a two-thirds vote of the House, according to a legislative agenda.

But Sun submitted her resignation letter as lawmakers took the floor and before the motion could be introduced.

A copy of the resolution accuses Sun of engaging in conduct that “undermined the public's confidence in this institution and violated the order and decorum necessary to complete the people's work in the State of Arizona.”

Contreras declined to comment on the potential motion but said House Democrats are ready to put the situation behind them.

“I want us to be able to work together, and we have work to do here — for not just us, but for all Arizonans,” Contreras said. “And that’s what we’re going to do, and tomorrow we’ll come back and still do what we’ve been doing.”    

The motion to expel would have needed support from two-third of House members.

Rep. Justin Wilmeth (R-Phoenix) said he believes there would have been enough support on both sides of the aisle to expel Sun.

“Ultimately, it’s about respecting the office,” Wilmeth said. “[The press] has to respect the office; I have to respect the office; everybody has to…that was the mistake she made.”

Lawmakers last voted to expel a member last year when Democrats marshaled enough support to oust Republican Liz Harris.

The report issued by the committee found that Sun behaved inappropriately on multiple occasions while acting in her official capacity. That includes when she allegedly told several attendees at a meeting during a conference in Tucson that she wanted to slap Pilar Sinawi, a lobbyist for the city of Tolleson, and throw her over a balcony to kill her.

Sun admitted she said she would like to slap Sinawi but denied threatening to kill her. She also said she made the comment in jest and it was not a credible threat, because Sinawi was not present in the meeting.

But the committee did not find those claims credible, citing testimony from two lobbyists who were in the meeting.

“Moreover, this argument ignores the impropriety of having made the statement in that way in the first place: whether the official was there or not and whether the threat was levied directly to her or not does not mitigate the severity of the content of the threat or the fact that Representative Sun made it while acting in her official capacity at a legislative event,” according to the report.

The committee also found that Sun abused her position when she intervened in a court ordered child custody transfer on behalf of a friend

Sun admitted to the interference but denied a second allegation that she claimed to represent Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes while doing so.

Again, the lawmakers on the committee concluded that Sun’s explanation did not excuse her behavior.

“But the Committee agrees that, regardless whether she [invoked Mayes’ name], Representative Sun acted inappropriately and abused her position as a state representative when she intervened in the transfer and knowingly acted in a way to prevent compliance with a lawful court order,” according to the report. “To be sure, Representative Sun was informed at least four times that the children's transfer was required by an order from the court.”

The ethics committee also concluded that Sun attempted to retaliate against the superintendent of the Littleton school district after he reported concerning behavior to the committee in 2023.

In the ethics committee’s first hearing on complaints against Sun, Littleton Elementary School District Superintendent Roger Freeman alleged Sun made vague threats to use her power as a legislator to retaliate against him or his district during a tense meeting by using an SB 1487 complaint, which allows all lawmakers to ask the Attorney General to investigate potential violations of state law by cities and counties, not school districts.

Sun denied the allegation and claimed the discussion focused on whether there should be similar legislation allowing lawmakers to request investigations into charter schools.

But the committee found Sun engaged in a pattern of retaliatory behavior against Freeman by asking the president of the Littleton school board to intervene in the matter. Sun also showed up to a school board meeting in January and said she was unhappy Freeman testified to the House Ethics Committee weeks before. 

“The Committee finds that this was an act of retaliation against the superintendent and that the totality of circumstances surrounding this incident supports the Committee's finding of a pattern of abusing her official title and position,” according to the report. 

Democrats in Legislative District 22 will now have to meet to nominate candidates to replace Sun. The Maricopa County Supervisors will then appoint the replacement from that pool.

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