It’s probably not the defense state Rep. Daniel Patterson was hoping for.
Troubled and accused of violence, the Arizona lawmaker saw two of his fellow legislators come to his defense on Tuesday by comparing him to none other than George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer at the center of a national firestorm for killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
Patterson, a longtime Arizona Democrat who recently became an independent, has been accused of dragging his girlfriend from a car and terrifying one of his fellow legislators so much that she now sleeps with a weapon at her side. As a result, he could be thrown out of office as early as this week.
“For many people, they had Mr. Zimmerman convicted before all the facts were known,” state Rep. Cecil Ash, a Republican, said in an interview with TPM on Tuesday. “That same principle applies to Mr. Patterson’s case. People have formed opinions about his guilt or innocence before all the facts are in.”
Ash and one of his fellow Republicans, state Rep. John Fillmore, said as much in a letter they wrote on Patterson’s behalf earlier in the day.
“John Fillmore and myself have become concerned about the similarities between this situation and the media’s attempt to try the Trayvon Martin case in the public arena without the benefit of the protections of due process and proper procedure,” Ash wrote in a letter signed by both legislators. “We are skeptical that justice can be done with such an approach.”
The letter was sent to the state Speaker of the House to convince him to give Patterson a full ethics hearing, complete with witnesses and the chance for the lawmaker to cross-examine them, before the legislature considers tossing him from office.
“For something this important, I think you should be given the opportunity to have a hearing and to call witnesses or cross-examine those who have said something against you,” Ash said in the interview.
Some might be offended by being compared to someone who has been portrayed as a wannabe cop with allegedly racist tendencies. But not Patterson.
He included the letter as part of his 19-page written defense in which he tried to pick apart all the allegations against him.
Those allegations are many. In February, his girlfriend-turned-campaign manager accused him of dragging her from a car. But an ethics investigator assigned to look at the case quickly uncovered more alleged lawbreaking and disturbing behavior.
The ethics report released last week detailed allegations that Patterson regularly has rage-filled outbursts in front of his colleagues, that he frequently smokes marijuana and that he once offered a lobbyist to trade his vote for sex.
Democrats in the state House have tried to throw Patterson out of office since the allegations surfaced, but Republican leaders there have blocked the efforts, saying that the lawmaker deserves a chance to defend himself.
Ash clarified that he doesn’t see Patterson’s case exactly the same as Zimmerman’s. “There’s a huge difference in the seriousness of the cases,” he said. But, he added, both began with allegations of violence and have quickly grown into public spectacles.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com