A former East Valley lawmaker is challenging a demand by Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard to testify in a lawsuit that seeks to punish Child Protective Services for its treatment of a Gilbert mother and her young son.
Former Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, said she will fight a subpoena to appear at a March 24 deposition, claiming that every lawmaker has the right to help their constituents without fear of being dragged into court.
But Knaperek also is angry that Goddard's office used a process server who tracked her down while she was attending church on Feb. 23 and handed her the subpoena in front of several of her Sunday school students.
"My sacred place was taken away from me by the state attorney's general’s office," Knaperek said. "I can't imagine anyone in their right mind thinking it was appropriate."
Goddard has apologized to Knaperek for the way the subpoena was delivered. His staff has blamed an over-zealous independent contractor for the incident.
"It probably was not spelled out before what you can or what you cannot do," said Diana Jennings, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. "It will be spelled out now. We will not serve anyone at their place of worship."
The attorney general's office wants Knaperek's testimony in a $3 million lawsuit filed by Janel Gutierrez, who went by her married name, Janel Miller. The Tribune profiled Gutierrez's case in a series of stories in 2001 and 2002. Gutierrez lost custody of her infant son for nearly two years after CPS accused her of having Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental disorder in which a person invents medical problems in a child to get attention for themselves, even going so far as to inflict harm on the child.
CPS has maintained agency caseworkers acted properly even though doctors later found that Gutierrez's son did suffer from a treatable illness, and the agency could provide no substantial evidence that Gutierrez posed any threat to the boy.
Gutierrez asked for Knaperek's help in 2000 because of the lawmaker's reputation for challenging the state's approach to child welfare cases with unusual circumstances. Citing state privacy laws, Knaperek always has declined to reveal the extent of her involvement.
But Gutierrez's case was one of several controversial CPS matters reviewed privately in 2001 by a legislative committee that Knaperek headed. Knaperek also confirmed Thursday that she sponsored several CPS-related bills inspired by Gutierrez's case.
Knaperek and Gutierrez's attorney, John Jakubczyk, said they don't know why the state's attorneys want to depose her. Knaperek said the attorney general's office didn't speak with her about the lawsuit earlier, and she heard a rumor about the deposition only a few days before the subpoena was delivered.
A longtime child and family advocate, Knaperek became a part-time columnist for the Tribune after she lost a bid in November to unseat Sen. Harry Mitchell, D-Tempe. But Knaperek said she has constitutional immunity from being forced to testify about her activities while she was a lawmaker.
Her stance is strong enough that the state's risk management office has agreed to pay for a private attorney to represent Knaperek.
"Obviously, I don't see the AG's office as being friendly," Knaperek said. "They came after me like a bulldog and I don't understand why. They aren't explaining it to me."
Jennings said the attorney general's office wants information from as many people as possible as it prepares for trial. State attorneys want to learn what Knaperek knows about the facts and background that relate to Gutierrez's claims, Jennings said.
The state has received no formal notice that Knaperek doesn't want to testify, Jennings said.
"If she does challenge (the deposition), a judge will decide if she has any right to immunity," Jennings said.