Russell Pearce "is possessed of a violent temper," according to a 1980 court document signed by his wife LuAnne.
That old example of a loaded question, "So, when did you stop beating your wife?" seems weirdly applicable in Valley political circles these days. First, there’s the June 26 incident involving Democratic state Representative Mark DeSimone, wherein DeSimone was arrested for allegedly punching his wife in the face during a late-night family squabble. DeSimone has promised to resign his Legislative District 11 House seat because of the arrest.
More recently, Michelle Berman, the wife of Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman, told the East Valley Tribune in a July 15 article that she had endured years of physical and mental abuse from her husband. She reported the abuse to a Gilbert police counselor. The Gilbert police handed the allegations over to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating. Berman's denied that he's ever been abusive toward his wife, and has claimed she has a substance abuse problem. The Arizona Republic has subsequently reported that Mayor Berman's past marriages have included allegations of physical abuse.
Will Mesa legislator Russell Pearce be next in the list of pols tarnished by domestic violence allegations? During a recent LD 18 Clean Elections debate with his state Senate primary rival, fellow Republican Kevin Gibbons, the uber conservative Pearce referred to "abuse in our homes" as a "black eye on our society." But while doing some research on Pearce, I ran across a petition for dissolution of marriage filed back in 1980 by Pearce's wife of over 30 years LuAnne. The document is unremarkable, save for one, damning line:
"Further, the husband, RUSSELL KEITH PEARCE, is possessed of a violent temper, and has from time to time hit and shoved the wife, the last time being on February 3 , when he grabbed the wife by the throat and threw her down."
You can read the doc in its entirety, here. The passage above is on page four, and is highlighted.
Sure, the document is 28 years old, and the file was eventually closed by the court for lack of activity. (Pearce and his wife are still married.) But, as I've mentioned, the issue has been much in the news of late, and Pearce has always presented himself as a law-and-order type of guy. One of his constant refrains, and one that has earned him near deity status amongst nativists in Arizona and beyond, is that we need to "take the handcuffs off law enforcement" and let them enforce all of the laws on the books, particularly those regarding undocumented aliens.
Asked during the LD 18 debate his position on strengthening laws against domestic violence offenders, Pearce insisted there are already tough-enough statutes on the books. "Half the battle is enforcing those laws," he told the audience. He characterized domestic violence as "a terrible, terrible thing," and spoke of the importance of the home "as a sanctuary for our family, our wives and our children."
Faced with the contradiction of this document’s existence from 1980, I contacted LuAnne Pearce by phone to ask her about it. She denied that her husband had ever threatened or hurt her.
"I would have to see the document," she said. "Russell has never struck me. He has never grabbed me by the throat and thrown me down. So I don’t know where they came up with that."
Told that the document was signed by her and notarized, Mrs. Pearce suggested that the lawyer who drew it up may have put that line about the abuse in there without her knowledge.
"There was a time in our marriage, yes, that we were going to get divorced," she told me. "It has been years ago. But the stuff you’re talking about, I never said that. Maybe that was just the attorney’s way -- I have no idea. All I’m saying is that he’s never struck me. He has never grabbed me by the throat and thrown me down."
Attorney E. Evans Farnsworth prepared the document back in 1980 while with the Mesa law firm Smith, Riggs, Buckley and Farnsworth. Now a pro-tem judge in Chandler, Farnsworth told me he could not recall Mrs. Pearce as a client, as he did a lot of divorce work back then. Nor would he, he said, have kept records of something so old. I told him I had obtained the paperwork from the Maricopa County Superior Court, and asked if it would have originated with him, since it bore his signature and the stamp of his law office.
"Well I’m sure it did," he told me, later adding, "I would have drafted that document based on what the client told me in the interview. In most cases, when they’re alleging something like that, you even verify it by another means, if possible, one of the children, or what have you. But I would have never made an allegation in a petition that the client was unaware of. That just didn’t happen."
I played phone tag with Pearce himself, who was an MCSO deputy at the time of the divorce petition. Though we never spoke, he did leave a phone mail message denying the allegations made by his wife back in 1980, though he said he never read the document itself and didn't know what was in it.
"When LuAnne and I were separated, I knew she had filed," said Pearce in the message. "She came to me though and said she was not going to go through [with it]. We reconciled. I probably threw it in the trash or something, so I’ve never seen what you’re reading."
Pearce then explained that his wife had told him I had called, and she related to him what was in the document.
"I was told by LuAnne and I know what it says, basically," he stated. "But it’s just not true. It’s simply not true. And it’s pretty unfair to [use] something that’s simply not true…LuAnne and I have been married for 33 years. Like every marriage, you know, you have your ups and downs. But I’ve always been a good husband. A loving husband."
Pearce's foe in the Republican primary for state Senate, attorney Kevin Gibbons, could not be reached for comment. However, in responding to that same question about domestic violence during the LD 18 debate, Gibbons had harsh words for any man who would strike a woman or a child.
"I think that anybody that would hit a child or their spouse is absolutely despicable," he told the audience. "That kind of behavior is unpardonable. It’s gross, it’s happening a lot more frequently than we understand. And, sadly, a lot of people need help. And we need to reach out to them and assist them. This is a scourge on society and we need to address it."
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Ironically, Gibbons recently, and very publicly, made a donation to Autumn House, a local domestic violence shelter, after it was revealed that Arizona Democratic rainmaker Jim Pederson and some family members had given to Gibbons' campaign. Gibbons said the donations had been unsolicited, and instead of returning the money to Pederson, as many Republicans were calling for, he was donating the funds to the shelter. The move was widely perceived as a swipe at the Democrats’ problems in the wake of the DeSimone scandal.
I'm sure Pearce's supporters will question my airing of this old document, but I would counter that Pearce has shown no mercy to those families ripped apart by the ongoing persecution of the undocumented, which Pearce champions. Also, there's the clear hypocrisy factor of Pearce constantly pontificating about the rule of law, when he has this tawdry tidbit in his closet. Or his condemnation of family violence, when there's an allegation of same in his past.
Also, Pearce currently carries water for Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Arpaio has endorsed Pearce's campaign for the state Senate seat vacated by Republican crazy lady Karen Johnson. If you'll recall, four years ago, Arpaio’s henchmen had no problem digging up a bogus 30-year-old rape allegation against his then-Republican primary opponent and current general election contender Dan Saban. (You can read all about the case in Paul Rubin's 2007 cover story, "Below the Belt.")
Did Pearce ever condemn Arpaio for this skullduggery? Not that I can find a record of.