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Witnesses say Rep. Leezah Sun threatened lobbyist

An ethics panel in the Arizona House of Representatives heard testimony Thursday from witnesses who say they heard Rep. Leezah Sun threatened a lobbyist. 

Sun, a West Valley lawmaker, faces an ethics complaint filed by fellow Democrats over allegations she verbally harassed city of Tolleson staff and made threats against city lobbyist Pilar Sinawi.

At a hearing in December, the panel heard second-hand accounts that Sun told other lobbyists during a conference that she would slap Sinawi, throw her off a balcony and kill her.

Lobbyists Liz Goodman and Destiny Ruiz told the panel Thursday that Sun did in fact make those statements to them during the League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference in Tucson in 2023. 

Goodman said they requested a meeting with Sun, whose legislative district includes Tolleson, because they wanted an introduction with Tolleson Mayor Juan F. Rodriguez and other city officials.

“Her response was really unexpected, took us all by surprise,” Goodman said. “It was laced with profanities about several members of the city of Tolleson.” 

Sun admitted to saying she would slap Sinawi but denied threatening to throw her off a balcony. 

She also claimed the hotel lobby where they met did not even have a balcony. A photo from the hotel’s website shows an indoor ledge with a staircase overlooking a lower level in the lobby. 

Sun has long argued the statements were not serious threats and were simply made to blow off steam. But when Ethics Committee Vice Chair Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert) asked whether Sun’s statements may have been made as a joke or taken out of context, both Goodman and Ruiz said they were serious threats.

“It was not said in jest … there was no laughing,” Goodman said. 

House Ethics Committee Chairman Joseph Chaplik repeatedly cut off Sun during her own closing statement, and as questions Sun asked Goodman and Ruiz veered into personal attacks. That included an allegation that Goodman  only asked Sun to introduce her to the Tolleson officials because she knew beforehand that Sun had a difficult relationship with the city.

At one point, Sun accused Goodman of using the situation to bait her into overreacting. Chaplik said those statements were out of line.

“We’ve asked you several times to refrain from speaking on behalf of Ms. Goodman or Ms. Ruiz’s intention in the meeting,” Chaplik said after stopping Sun’s closing statements.

Chaplik says the committee will issue a report in about 10 days on the ethics complaint, which also includes allegations that Sun interfered in a court-ordered child custody transfer on behalf of a friend. 

The report could include recommended disciplinary actions that would need to be voted on by the whole Arizona House of Representatives.

Last year, two lawmakers faced ethics hearings in the Arizona House of Representatives. One led to the expulsion of former Republican Rep. Liz Harris for inviting speakers who made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against elected officials. The other led to a censure of Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) for hiding Bibles in the House of Representatives. 

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.