Arizona legislator charged with having open container

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State Rep. Albert Hale (Source: Arizona State Legislature) State Rep. Albert Hale (Source: Arizona State Legislature)

By Felicia Fonseca/Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, AZ (AP) - State Rep. Albert Hale has been charged with having an open container of alcohol in his vehicle, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of four months in jail if convicted.

The charge filed Friday in Snowflake Justice Court comes months after Hale was arrested near Heber on suspicion of driving while slightly impaired. Prosecutors declined to pursue a driving under the influence charge after blood tests revealed Hale had no alcohol in his system.

Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon said the open container charge is the most appropriate charge.

"The reason we have the open container law is so that people, especially drivers, won't be drinking while they drive and endanger others," he wrote in an email.

Hale acknowledged having "a little bit" of gin in his coffee last November when he was pulled over by a state Department of Public Safety officer for speeding on State Route 277, records show. His attorney, Michael Nelson, said Hale hasn't been served with the complaint filed Friday but would fight the charge.

"He has confidence that the process will reach the appropriate results," Nelson said.

The case against Hale won't move forward immediately because lawmakers enjoy immunity from court proceedings while the Legislature is in session, Carlyon said. But Carlyon said he doesn't believe his office is prohibited from filing the charge now.

Hale, 64, is an attorney who served seven years in the state Senate. He now is serving his third term in the House, where he's been pushing a bill this year to make it easier for tribal members who don't have birth certificates to get one.

On the Navajo Nation, he's a key partner in a proposal to develop an aerial tram into the Grand Canyon at the east rim. The project hasn't been introduced in the Navajo Nation Council and would need subsequent approval from the tribal president, a post from which Hale resigned in 1998 to avoid impeachment on allegations of misuse of tribal funds.