Anthony Tsontakis, attorney for sham recall candidate Olivia Cortes, seems like a smart enough guy, but I'm guessing his eyesight's a little off.
In an op-ed he authored for the Arizona Capitol Times, he decried the lawsuit brought against his client by attorneys Tom Ryan and H. Micheal Wright on behalf of Legislative District 18 voter Mary Lou Boettcher, and claimed victory.
See, Ryan and Wright wanted Judge Edward Burke to strip Cortes' name from the ballot because she's a diversionary candidate and a fraud on the public.
In his October 3 ruling, Burke agreed with the pair that Cortes' candidacy was advanced by loyalists and family members of state Senate President Russell Pearce, and that these Tea Party members strained credulity with their testimony.
But absent any evidence of fraud on Cortes' part, he refused to boot her off the November 8 ballot. This, following a hearing before Burke where various witnesses were queried under oath.
In his op-ed, Tsontakis crowed, referring to Ryan's legal strategy as "repugnant" and even accusing Ryan of making a paid petition circulator cry in court.
Tsontakis writes that when Ryan asked Suzanne Dreher, an employee of the signature-gathering company Petition Pros, whether she knew that running a sham candidate could be considered a class 5 felony under Arizona law, Dreher "broke down in tears."
Thing is, that never happened. I was sitting just a few feet from Dreher in the jury box, along with other members of the press. I didn't see any tears. And certainly Dreher did not "break down."
Instead, she answered Ryan's questions honestly, admitting that she told some folks — including undercover newshounds such as myself — that Cortes' candidacy was meant to "dilute" the vote and help Pearce fend off his main rival, Republican Jerry Lewis.
Giving Tsontakis the benefit of the doubt, a good optometrist may be in order. But his declaration of victory, well, that may require the services of a psychiatrist.
Delusional is the proper term here. Because while these were civil proceedings, the courtroom drama resembled a criminal trial, with Ryan in the role of chief prosecutor, and the jury made up of members of the Fourth Estate.
And the media's verdict? Guilty as charged. Even reporters from conservative outlets such as KFYI 550 AM were rolling their eyes as Tea Party member after Tea Party member admitted that they were each fierce Pearce partisans and yet backed Cortes' candidacy to the hilt.
None of them was sincere enough to admit that he or she wanted Cortes in the race to help the embattled Senate president. In that sense, they were not as forthcoming as Dreher, who testified that her boss, Petition Pros owner Diane Burns, coached her in how to solicit signatures nominating Cortes from pro-Pearce Mesans.
But Franklin Bruce Ross, the Tea Party member who was the plaintiff in Pearce's failed attempt to stop the recall from happening, probably came the closest to confessing. He said he and fellow Tea Partiers were angered that Lewis was on the ballot, believing he should have waited 'til the next Republican primary to run, instead of taking advantage of the recall.
"We put [Cortes] on the ballot because of that," he told the court.
Indeed, the judge's ruling — and that he will allow another evidentiary hearing with still more witnesses subpoenaed from the Pearce camp to testify — belie Tsontakis' claim that he's won some great legal battle.
Though the judge believed Cortes was genuinely clueless about nearly every aspect of her campaign, he did not find the testimony of Greg Western, chairman of the East Valley Tea Party and Cortes' main volunteer, to be at all credible.
"Cortes was persuaded to sign her Political Committee Statement of Organization and run for the Senate by Western, a Pearce supporter," the judge concluded.
Without the assistance of Western and his Tea Party cronies, with whom he hatched the Cortes plot at a Mesa Denny's, Cortes' name "would not be on the recall election ballot," the judge stated.
"It is also clear that those who have assisted Cortes have done so to divert votes from Lewis for Pearce's benefit," Burke wrote, later adding, "[Western's] testimony that he has no idea who designed, posted, and paid for campaign signs supporting Cortes or who paid the professional petition circulators is too improbable to believe."
As for Cortes, she came off as an uninformed rube, struggling with such concepts as "intellectual property," ignorant of the origins of the United Farm Workers phrase "Sí, Se Puede" that appears on her mystery signs, and unable to identify a press release issued by her campaign.
In short, Tsontakis' client now is a laughingstock, revealed to the world as bumbling fool, the tool of a Tea Party effort to disenfranchise voters by pawning her off as a real contender for public office.
And Tsontakis lists this in his "win" column? Tsontakis couldn't even score the lawsuit's dismissal, thus allowing Ryan and Wright to come back for yet another bite at the apple in a subsequent hearing.
In last week's column, I characterized Ryan's lawsuit as a "Hail Mary" pass ("Grand Sham," September 29), but one that was necessary to lay bare the conspiracy at hand, the outrageous duplicity of the Tea Party, and the utter scumminess of this whole affair.
The hearing has prompted an inquiry into signage for Cortes by the Arizona Secretary of State, and the City of Mesa now has taken the insulting, cynical, and illegal signs down.
Cortes was forced out of hiding, and the conspirators were made to swear to tell the truth, even if they failed to follow through.
Also, Ryan and Wright's tireless pro bono work has put an acetylene torch to the pants of every lazy journalist in town.
Suddenly, all the news outlets are hot on the trail of Arizona's prince of political sleaze, Constantin Querard, who many believe is the greasy eminence behind Cortes' illegitimate candidacy.
Channel 12 has revealed that Querard, a Pearce operative, was soliciting shill candidates as early as this spring. Channel 15 has shown up on his doorstep, only to have no one answer, like at Cortes' house in weeks past.
If this state had a real attorney general, instead of showboater Tom Horne, Querard would be the subject of an AG probe, as he has been in the not-too-distant past.
But Arizona, on every level, lacks a prosecutor willing to pursue such obvious corruption as what we all saw on display during Ryan and Wright's last evidentiary hearing before Judge Burke.
So Ryan's the best we've got at this point. Reporters can dig, but, sadly, we cannot subpoena witnesses and private records. Even if nothing else is exposed in Burke's courtroom, the Ryan-Wright gambit has been an unmitigated success.
Asked about Tsontakis' fantasies of legal triumph, Ryan, as is the way of the Irish, recounted a joke:
A hen, belonging to one Irish farmer, leapt the fence into another's yard. Ownership of the bird became a matter of dispute. So the first farmer challenged the second to a game of kick-the-groin, with the winner getting the chicken.
The first farmer launched the initial salvo, dropping his neighbor to the ground in writhing pain. When the fellow recovered, he said, "Now it's my turn."
"Nah, keep the damn bird," said the other. "I never wanted it anyway."
Ryan smiled. Tsontakis owns a clucker all right. But Ryan got the pleasure of the first kick.
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