PHOENIX -- State utility regulators voted Tuesday to quash a bid by one of their own to get Arizona Public Service to produce records he subpoenaed.
Officially the vote of the Arizona Corporation Commission was to cut off the funds for the outside attorney they had previously authorized Bob Burns to hire. That is when APS and Pinnacle West Capital Corp., its parent, asked a judge to block his subpoena.
Last week, however, the utility dropped its lawsuit, though it has not produced any of the additional records Burns contends he is entitled as a regulator to get. These deal with the company's political involvement financially in the 2014 commission race as well as what it spends on lobbyists and charitable donations.
So he turned the tables and filed his own legal action to compel compliance.
But the 3-1 vote Tuesday by the panel cuts off further funds for William Richards, Burns' attorney, with Chairman Tom Forese saying the authorization was solely to defend Burns, not in an affirmative pursuit of the records.
Burns reacted angrily.
He pointed out that even Attorney General Mark Brnovich has ruled that individual commissions have the right to subpoena records. And Burns said the panel is a quasi-judicial body, functioning at times like a panel of judges to rule on issues like rate hike requests.
"What if a judge in the court system issued subpoenas and the recipient of the subpoenas says, 'Take a hike'?'' he asked.
"What would the other judges in the court do?'' Burns continued. "I'd think they'd throw an absolute fit.''
Forese, for his part, said Tuesday's vote does not officially block his bid for the records.
"Yes, a single commissioner has certain powers,'' he said. "But what if the majority of the commission is concerned about resources being spent?''
Put another way, Forese said the commission has to decide whether Burns, in pursuit of his authority, has the power to expend commission funds on his own.
"That's what we're going to have to see,'' he said.
Commission records show Richards has so far been paid close to $15,200.
Forese separately lashed out at Burns for what he sees as the single-minded pursue of APS and its records at the expense of everything else, calling him "an absolute obstructionist.''
"We were about to vote to support giving broadband access to children in rural schools,'' Forese said.
"He used that as an opportunity to continue his fight against APS and 'dark money,' '' Forese continued. "Is this issue so important to them that they will shut down the important work of the commission? And if so, shame on them.''
In fact, though, the measure to provide the funding was approved unanimously.
APS has repeatedly refused to comment on both the underlying activities of the 2014 race.
A company spokesman will neither confirm or deny it was the source of money spent by two "dark money'' groups to help Forese and Doug Little survive the Republican primary and subsequently to defeat Democrats in the general election.
The two organizations, the Free Enterprise Club and Save Our State Now together put $3.2 million into the campaign. But they contend that their legal definition under federal tax code as a "social welfare'' organization means they need not disclose their donors.
Burns responded by issuing a subpoena. But what Burns said he got was simply items that already are a public record, with nothing on the specific expenses he was seeking.
Forese said the decision by the commission to cut off legal funding does not preclude Burns from pursuing the utility.
He pointed out that Burns secured reelection this year with the help of outside money.
"I'm sure he has folks that would fund whatever effort he was looking to do,'' Forese said.
Some of those dollars came from Solar City which sought to reelect Burns and put Democrat Bill Mundell on the commission. But what Forese did not say is some actually came from APS which was so anxious to keep any Democrats from getting elected that they put about $4 million into the campaign to reelect Burns and Andy Tobin as well as elect Boyd Dunn.