You could say Russell Pearce beat the lawsuit (for now), but lost his career.
Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Martone sided with recalled, disgraced ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce, finding that Pearce did not violate the constitutional rights of Phoenix activist Sal Reza when Pearce banned him from the state Senate building in 2011.
Not knowing that the Mesa muttonhead had "banned" him, Reza was arrested when he stopped by the Capitol to talk with his Senator, Steve Gallardo.
Arizona Department of Public Safety Sergeant Jeff Trapp and Officer J. Gentry Burton, the DPS officers assigned as plainclothes security for the building, ordered Reza out, and Reza, incredulous, asked to see proof of his banishment in writing.
So like class-A jerks, Trapp and Burton collared both Reza and a lady accompanying him, even though she wasn't banned.
Allegedly, the DPSers threw the 61 year-old Air Force veteran up against a plate-glass window and dragged the little woman Reza was with by her hair.
Both were cuffed and hauled off to Fourth Avenue Jail. For what, exactly? For attempting to speak with their elected representative after Pharaoh Pearce issued his edict.
Pearce claims that Reza had been seen by others being disruptive two nights before, during a marathon Senate Appropriations Committee session on February 22, 2011.
I was there that evening, as Pearce, ever the one-trick-pony, introduced yet more anti-immigration legislation.
Reza and hundreds of other activists were in the building to observe. Ironically, they were not even in the room where the hearing was being held. They were in an entirely different room, watching the proceedings on closed circuit TV.
Apparently, some people in this "overflow room" applauded and/or booed at certain points during the hearing. The suggestion that this was disruptive to the hearing taking place in a different room is ludicrous in the extreme.
At no time was the hearing interrupted, and as I sat in front row of the hearing chamber, I did not hear a peep from the room beyond, which was separated from the appropriations hearing room by a hallway.
Interestingly, in Burton's deposition, the officer testified that there were no disruptions in the Senate hearing room.
When asked if he had to instruct Reza to be quiet that night, Burton replied, "No, not that I recall."
Indeed, if some people were being disruptive, why didn't Pearce, the Sergeant at Arms and Pearce's DPS flunkies simply remove the boisterous individuals at that time?
I'll tell you why, because this allegation of disruptiveness is bogus, an excuse for the shenanigans that followed.
Judge Martone even notes at one point that, "Five witnesses who observed the Senate hearing in the overflow room all testified that plaintiff did not engage in disruptive behavior."
And yet, Martone, an appointee of President George W. Bush, says that Pearce is entitled to "qualified immunity," even if it is "accepted as true that plaintiff was not disruptive."
Incredibly, Martone declares, "If plaintiff was mistakenly targeted as a disruptive member of the crowd, `that was unfortunate, but it did not violate the First Amendment.'"
Maybe the judge missed this little factoid: Reza was falsely arrested and imprisoned on February 24, 2011. The county attorney did not pursue charges against Reza from this arrest because Reza had done nothing wrong.
The judge seems clueless as to why this is more than just "unfortunate." Perhaps he's never been treated as Reza was that day. I suspect that if the same thing had happened to Martone, he'd sue faster than he can get that black robe on in the mornin'.
Martone practically sounds like Pearce's lawyer at one point, saying that Pearce genuinely believed Reza was one of the disruptive ones because Trapp and Burton had told him so.
"This belief," continued Martone, "coupled with the tense atmosphere at the Senate building on February 22, 2011, the arrest of protestors earlier in the day...as well as the shooting of 18 people at a political rally in Tucson, Arizona just six weeks earlier, provided an objectively reasonable basis for Pearce to conclude that action needed to be taken to protect and preserve safety and decorum in the Senate building."
Pffft. Pearce wasn't concerned about safety and decorum. He allowed legislators to pack heat in the Senate building, with one famously pointing her gun at a reporter. This, despite a state law banning weapons from the both the state House and Senate.
Nor was Pearce so concerned with security that he had metal detectors installed at the senate doors. Though the general public is not supposed to be armed in the state Senate and House, nothing's in place to stop them from carrying concealed in that building, if they so desire.
Pearce's action against Reza had zip to do with maintaining order and decorum. Instead, it was all about retaliation against Reza, whom Pearce saw as the leader of the legions who had descended on the legislature in opposition to Pearce's continued jihad against Latinos.
Martone subtly signals that he knows Pearce's act was retaliation, but he's okay with that.
Take this passage from Martone's order, about an announcement Pearce made following Reza's banishment:
"Three weeks later, on March 14, 2011, Pearce notified the Senate of new rules concerning disruptions to Senate business. He explained that the first incident of disruption would result in a two-week exclusion from the Senate building. A second disruption would result in a 60 day exclusion, and finally a `pattern of disorderly or disruptive conduct' would result in an indefinite exclusion. There is no claim that plaintiff was denied access to the Senate building on any day other than February 24, 2011."
That last sentence is bewildering. Why would Reza return to the Senate building to be arrested again? Is Martone daft, or is he just some authoritarian tool who believes that politicians should have carte blanche to make up the rules as they go along, even if they trample on the rights of other?
Likely, it's the latter. By noting that Pearce announced a new set of rules regarding his unconstitutional blacklist three weeks after Reza's arrest, Martone indicates that he's aware Pearce had targeted Reza and only after the fact created the "rules" that Reza supposedly broke.
When I called him for a comment, Reza would only say that he and his attorney Stephen Montoya are considering an appeal, and that he believes the judge was wrong.
I'll second that last bit. In his order, Martone is saying that those in authority can act capriciously and with ill-intent against ordinary citizens without fear of accountability.
I'm sure Pearce will agree with the good judge.
Fortunately, the voters of the old Legislative District 18 were not of the same mind. One of the many reasons Pearce lost by double digits in 2011 to one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Jerry Lewis, is that voters saw Pearce as a mean, vindictive bully.
Which he is. As this incident and so many others Pearce's been involved in over the years have revealed.
In other words, Martone sided with the bully, but a more important judge rendered an entirely different verdict: the electorate.
Hell, the electorate did it all over again in 2012, denying Pearce a return to the state Senate in the GOP primary.
Thankfully, Martone has no say in those rulings. They both stand.
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UPDATE 12/28/2012 10:23 P.M.:
I spoke with Reza's lawyer Stephen Montoya shortly after publishing this blog item. Montoya told me that he and Reza had just made the decision to go to the Ninth Circuit with the case, where Montoya says they have a "good chance" of overturning Martone's ruling.
"To Mr. Pearce, I offer congratulations on his win in district court," Montoya said. "And we'll see him in the appellate court."
Montoya, obviously, disagreed with Martone's order. He said this was a "textbook case" of violating someone's First Amendment rights, and that he was "eager" to appeal the summary judgement.