The Arizona House Ethics Committee met Thursday morning to discuss an ethics complaint filed against Democrat Representative Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (Flagstaff), an ordained minister, after she was caught removing Bibles kept in the House’s members-only lounge.

“The House Ethics Committee is responsible for considering complaints that are submitted by a House member accusing another member of behavior that violates House Rules,” said Committee Chair Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale). “Today’s hearing was not a trial, but the Committee made every effort to provide Representative Stahl Hamilton the due process to which she is entitled as a member of the House.”

Specifically, this meeting discussed whether the lawmaker committed disorderly behavior. Under the House Rules, any violation of the rules can be considered disorderly behavior, and the member in question may be punished if two-thirds of the House votes for it. The committee viewed evidence surrounding the complaint and allowed Stahl Hamilton to cross-examine.

In total, the committee heard testimony from the House Sergent at Arms, Chuck Fitzgerald, who conducted the initial investigation, Representative Justin Heap (R-Mesa), who filed the complaint, and lawyers Diego Rodriguez and Domingo DeGrazia, who spoke on behalf of Stahl Hamilton. However, she was not present for the committee to speak in person. The lawyers said she was exercising her right to be absent.

When Fitzgerald took the stand, he explained the timeline of events. The incident allegedly began in March, as House staff noticed two Bibles from the lounge were missing. The books were eventually found underneath couch cushions. However, one of the Bibles went missing again and was found in a nearby refrigerator. After this second incident, Fitzgerald requested a hidden security camera for the lobby, and this camera caught Stahl Hamilton removing the Bibles again. Fitzgerald also said that no Representatives would have been aware of the camera.

Up next, Heap came to the stand and was asked if he would have filed a complaint against a Republican member for the same conduct, to which he said yes. Heap also said he took no actions to set up Stahl Hamilton and was unaware of the incidents occurring until they made headlines. He also said he has never felt the House has tried to force a certain belief system upon him.

Since the incidents became known, Stahl Hamilton has publically apologized. She claims what she did was a playful commentary on the separation of church and state and did not intend to harm anyone. This apology was brought up in committee, but Heap said he felt it was insincere because it only came after she was caught.

“I believe that her behavior was disorderly. It was inappropriate, and there needs to be a response. It needs to be investigated by this body,” Heap said.

Lastly, Rodriguez and DeGrazia took questions on behalf of the lawmaker. They started by reiterating that she believes her actions were nothing more than a joke and that she had the first amendment right to make protests.

Committee members asked several questions intended for Stahl Hamilton to answer, such as what her exact beliefs are regarding separation of church and state, if there were any other Representatives or accomplices involved in removing the Bibles, why she did not make an effort to speak with House leaders or staff about the Bibles if she had an issue with them, or if she would act the same outside of the House; however, none of these got an answer from the lawmaker’s representatives.

“Unfortunately, because of her absence, and the limited information that could be provided by the counsel she sent to represent her, committee members and the public were left with a lot of unanswered questions,” said Chaplik.

Ultimately, Chaplik said the committee will make a report based on its investigations, which may be released by June 12th.

Watch the entire meeting here.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Joseph Chaplik” by Arizona House Republicans. Photo “Stephanie Stahl Hamilton” by Arizona Legislature. Background Photo “Arizona State Capitol” by Adavyd. CC BY-SA 3.0.