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Watchdog Group Wants Second Review Of Commissioner Stump's Text Messages

Bob Stump
(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
Bob Stump of the Arizona Corporation Commission.

A watchdog group is asking for another review of text messages sent by an Arizona utility regulator.

The motion filed Wednesday by Checks and Balances comes after a retired judge, who was appointed to examine the texts of Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump, determined none of them qualified as public record. 

Checks and Balances, a non-profit based in Washington D.C. funded by clean energy interests, has spent months in a legal battle to gain access to the texts sent from Stump's phone to more than a dozen people, including commission candidates and the head of a "dark money" group during the 2014 election cycle.

Scott Peterson of Checks and Balances said thousands of Stump’s text messages may never have been handed over to Special Master David Cole.

“He did not examine any of the 3,500 text messages that were on our target list," Peterson said. "None of those text messages, which we were focused on, were even sent to Special Master Cole by the attorney general's investigators. Cole never even looked at them."

Cole’s report is only two paragraphs and does not go into specifics about the messages, only that after reviewing the "list of text messages" between "Stump and 18 individuals and entities" none are "subject to production."

Peterson pointed to a recent interview in which Cole suggested he may not have seen all of the relevant texts.

“There’s not enough detail to make a determination, so we need to do it over,” Peterson said.

Earlier this week, Commissioner Stump's attorney requested the judge overseeing the case adopt the special master's report and dismiss one of the counts against Stump. The attorney general has filed in support of that. Peterson's group, instead, argues the report should not be adopted and another review should be conducted, either by Cole or a new special master. 

After Cole's report, Dan Barr, the attorney for Checks and Balances, requested Cole provide more details about his review, including the total number of messages and how many of them were on the list from Checks and Balances.

In response, Cole wrote to Barr that "I honestly have no idea how to provide an answer" about how many texts were reviewed by him. He added that "the Attorney General provided me with the result of five different searches," which contain a "great deal of redundancy."

The Attorney General’s office had no comment on Wednesday about this latest motion, except that Cole came to the office and "reviewed all text messages found on the phone."

Stump has said the messages are private and Peterson’s group is pushing a conspiracy theory.

Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.