Ugenti-Rita evades questions as accusations of sexual harassment emerge

An Arizona state senator is facing mounting controversy over claims of sexual harassment from a lobbyist.

GOP state senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita refused to answer questions on Thursday, as she was on her way out of a hearing at the Arizona State Capitol near Downtown Phoenix. She represents the state's 23rd Legislative District, which covers portions of Scottsdale and the northeast corner of Maricopa County.

Ugenti-Rita became the face of the #MeToo movement at the Arizona State Capitol, after she revealed that she was the target of sexual harassment by her male colleagues throughout her four terms.

In a post made in October 2017 on her Facebook page, Ugenti-Rita said she experienced "unwanted sexual advances and lewd and suggestive comments regarding my body and appearance from male colleagues" almost immediately upon her arrival to the State Capitol.

Accusations leveled by Ugenti-Rita became one of a number of sexual harassment accusations that ended with the expulsion of State Rep. Don Shooter from the legislature. According to the Associated Press, Shooter is the first state lawmaker to be expelled since the emergence of the #MeToo movement.

Now, Ugenti-Rita is accused of sexually harassing a female lobbyist.

In a court deposition filed on behalf of Shooter, a lobbyist claims that Ugenti-Rita and Brian Townsend, a former staffer for Gov. Doug Ducey, sexually harassed her by repeatedly propositioning for a three-way sexual encounter.

Townsend is Ugenti-Rita's husband, and the lobbyist who levelled the accusations was a former staffer of Townsend.

The lobbyist claims Townsend sent her nude photos on more than one occasion. She also claims the situation made her uncomfortable because of Ugenti-Rita's unwelcome sexual advances, including one occasion at a conference in which the lobbyist said Ugenti-Rita invited her to stay the night in her hotel room.

The lobbyist claims once knowledge of the photos started circulating at the State Capitol, Ugenti-Rita yelled at her in a bathroom, calling her a liar.

Ugenti-Rita has confirmed that she was the person featured in the nude photos, but claims she didn't know that Townsend sent the photos, and that it was a source of difficulty in their relationship in the months prior to their marriage.

"We don't comment on ongoing litigation," said State Senate President Karen Fann. "As you know, there is an ongoing lawsuit pending, so we are not going to comment at this time."

"If there are other accusations that people who feel they are victims want pursued, then that's their right," said State Senator J.D. Mesnard, who was the Speaker of the House during the investigation surrounding Don Shooter.

Democratic lawmakers in the State Senate are calling for an ethics investigation, but won't say much else.