Arizona Senator's Won't Pursue Action Against Wendy Rogers
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- State senators won't pursue any action against first-term lawmaker Wendy Rogers about her interactions with a now-fired staffer.
On a party-line vote, the three Republicans on the Senate Ethics Committee concluded that there was no "clear and convincing evidence'' that the Flagstaff Republican had violated any rules of conduct in her interactions with Michael Polloni. That is the standard a staff attorney says committee members must use in determining the truth.
But the two Democrats on the committee suggested their Republican colleagues were reading the rules in too narrow a fashion.
Sen. Kristen Engel, D-Tucson, pointed out that those rules include "any improper conduct that adversely reflects on the Senate.'' And Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said there is more than enough evidence here to back that up.
The most notable, she said, was the allegation -- corroborated by another Senate staffer -- that Rogers yelled at and berated Polloni. She even cursed at him and told him his feelings don't matter because "you work for me.''
Steele also noted that others saw him crying and that he asked for help, including having a staff supervisor in the meeting with Rogers.
"I don't want assistants in this building thinking that it's OK for them to be treated this way,'' she said, noting Polloni was later fired. "That sends a really chilling message to the people who work here.''
She also pointed out other evidence, corroborated by text messages, that Rogers was pressuring Polloni to perform work while he was out with COVID-19 and had been told by his Senate supervisor to remain home to recover.
Unable to marshal the votes for a hearing to consider whether Rogers should be disciplined, Engel tried a fallback position: Dismiss the complaint but recommend that the senator complete four hours of coursework on proper supervisory conduct within the next four months.
That fared no better among the committee's three Republicans.
Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said the only power the committee has is to investigate allegation and decide whether there is evidence to recommend some disciplinary action to the full Senate. That can include everything from a reprimand and censure.
What it can't include, he said, is a requirement -- or even a recommendation -- for some form of training.
And Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, said there's no reason to pursue a further hearing.
He said the investigative report gives members of the committee all they need to know about what happened. Pace said moving ahead with a hearing would accomplish nothing other than to have Rogers and Polloni, both now represented by lawyers, spend a lot of time and money questioning and cross-examining witnesses.
Tuesday's action doesn't mean Rogers is off the hook.
Adam Kwasman, who is Polloni's attorney, said he will be filing a formal "notice of claim'' this coming week against the Senate alleging that his client was wrongfully fired from his job. That notice, a legal prerequisite to filing suit against a government agency, will offer to settle for $500,000.
Kwasman said the amount is justified.
"He dropped out of school for her,'' Kwasman said of Polloni who had been enrolled at Northern Arizona University, first to volunteer for her successful campaign and then, at her request, to serve as her Senate assistant. "He put his life on hold for her.''
And Kwasman said there's a legal basis for litigation.
"She fired him for not breaking the law,'' he said, a reference to Polloni's complaint that he was asked to do campaign work on state time.