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Arizona Supreme Court rules state Senate can shield some audit-related records from view

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled the state Senate does not have to release all of its communications regarding the so-called audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.

The high court’s ruling overturned a previous decision by the court of appeals, which had found GOP Senate leaders, among them Senate President Karen Fan (R-Prescott) failed to show those communication records were protected by legislative privilege.

But justices ruled that legislative privilege extends beyond communications directly related to specific legislation, a decision that favored Republican senators and its contractors for the audit, including Cyber Ninjas.

“Communications need not relate to proposed or pending legislation nor require an affirmative showing of indirect impairment of legislative deliberations,” Justice John Lopez wrote.

Fann praised the ruling, which could keep secret hundreds of pages of records related to the widely discredited election review.

“We absolutely believe in transparency,” Fann said in a statement. “However, there are times when legislative privilege should be exercised so we can do the jobs that the people of Arizona elected us to carry out.”

American Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that sued under Arizona’s public records laws, tweeted that the ruling only applies to some of the communications, but not all.

In fact, the justices detailed that the Senate “must disclose communications concerning administrative, political or other non-legislative matters,” while ordering the case back to Maricopa County Superior Court to sort through what records will remain hidden by legislative privilege and what records must be disclosed.

“This ruling makes it easier for officials to hide the truth about their motives and conduct from the public, but the court has still ordered the Senate to produce any administrative, political, and other communications withheld,” American Oversight officials tweeted.

Gregg Leslie, executive director of the First Amendment Clinic at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, joined The Show on Thursday to talk about the implications 

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Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.