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Effort To Obtain Arizona Regulator Bob Stump's Text Messages Not Over Yet

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

On Friday, a judge ordered another review to determine which, if any, of Commissioner Bob Stump's messages are public record.

Checks and Balances, a nonprofit funded by clean-energy interests, has been after Commissioner Stump’s texts for months, particularly those sent by Stump during the 2014 election cycle to commission candidates, the head of a "dark money" group and a utility executive. Earlier this year and after reviewing thousands of messages, a judge ruled none of them qualified as public record, but neglected to elaborate on which messages he analyzed or even how many.

Checks and Balances challenged that decision and essentially asked for a redo, including a chance for their own forensic expert to analyze the phone. That will not happen, at least not yet. But the case will not be dismissed, either.

Instead, the judge has ordered the state’s attorney general to conduct another review, produce a list of all the relevant texts, and specify which may be open to the public. 

Nonetheless, Stump did make some headway, including a dismissal of the count that he may have failed to preserve public records.

Tim LaSota, Stump's attorney, called the ruling "a big victory."

"It's indicative of the fact that we have scrupulously honored the public records law. Of course, nothing is ever good enough or satisfactory enough for Checks and Balances," said LaSota. 

He added that many text messages are private and that the public records law is not "a license for anyone to go on a fishing expedition."

A spokesperson for the corporation commission called the ruling "a fair decision for all parties involved."

But Scott Peterson with Checks and Balances said in an email that the ruling "is a step backward for Commissioner Stump and those who want to diminish the public’s right to know what their elected officials are doing."

Peterson said the judge has still not ruled out the possibility that his organization might be able to examine the phone at some point. 

"He said no facts have been developed yet and the defendants have not answered our complaint,” said Peterson.

Once the attorney general has concluded its review of the messages, the court will take additional action.

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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.