The mood at the courtroom hearing was light.
Maricopa County Judge Edward Burke cracked jokes about Augustus Shaw's lack of hair, Shaw smiled and waved to the man hired to spy on his family.
But the weirdest part had to be the very subject of the hearing itself -- an absurd attempt by Shaw, a married father of two children, to prove that he lives at his in-laws' house, and not what appears to be his home.
In many ways, the hearing yesterday at the Old Courthouse in downtown Phoenix seemed nothing but a farce.
Burke is expected to rule today whether Shaw, a Republican candidate for the State House of Representatives, can legally run for office in District 17.
The complaint, lodged by the law firm Perkins Coie Brown & Bain, alleges that Shaw is ineligible to run for State Representative of District 17 under state law because he lives in District 20.
Shaw, who was endorsed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, may be a fine candidate. Or not, considering his disciplinary record as an HOA attorney. But either way, rules are rules. The state can't force a candidate for U.S. Congress to live in his state-drawn Congressional District, as we just saw with Republican Joe Penalosa, but candidates for the State Legislature apparently don't have the same protection.
In court on Thursday, the question seemed simple: In which part of Tempe does Shaw actually live?
He says it's at his in-laws' place, 508 East Laguna. The other side says it's at home with his wife, kids and dog at 7920 Stephanie Lane.
The law firm came armed with footage from a hidden video camera, played on a screen for the courtroom. Observers were treated to a nine-minute movie of Shaw standing in his garage, taking his dog for an evening walk, driving to Home Depot for pool supplies and going out for dinner at Olive & Ivy in Scottsdale with his wife.
"I'm kind of jealous -- you have a more exciting life than me," Judge Burke told Shaw, breaking up the courtroom in laughter. "I'm going to get a dog again."
"They're more trouble than they're worth, sir," Shaw replied, (a great answer, considering the dog's role as alleged evidence against him).
When Shaw's wife took the stand, it became clear that Shaw's contention just didn't make sense.
Andrada Shaw, a stay-at-home mom for their two young children, testified that her husband spent four to five days a week at the Stephanie Lane house. Asked how many nights he slept there, she answered, "Um, some weeks five, some weeks seven."
Even more crushing to the candidate's argument was the testimony of his father-in-law, Peter Bergsneider, who owns the home on Laguna.
Bergsneider said his son-in-law pays no rent and doesn't contribute to the utilities. He has a room at the house and keeps some of his clothes there.
Judge Burke asked him when Shaw became a "resident" of the home.
"Since right before he decided to run for office," Bergsneider said.
"How much before?"
"Probably a couple of weeks," Bergsneider went on. "He said that he wanted to run for office and he wanted to represent my district. And he asked me if he could use my house for his residence."
We wondered if Burke was going to stop the proceeding then and there and boot Shaw out of the courtroom -- and out of the Legislative race.
It seemed that the facts had been established, but Shaw still wanted to testify. Growing visibly emotional, he told the court that his demanding work schedule was having a negative effect on his autistic son. Having a disabled child was also "difficult for a relationship," Shaw said. "I believed that residing in another location would help the family."
Since he enjoys a close relationship with his in-laws, he figured he'd stay there instead of at his own mother's home. He intends to keep living at the Laguna address and hopes to bring his whole family there, he testified.
Sounds fishy to us. If the idea is to have Dad spend a couple of nights a week away from home to help with the boy's autism, why does he plan to move the family in with him at his wife's parent's house, which is smaller than the more expensive home on Stephanie Lane?
Although Shaw has changed the address on his driver's license, voter's registration, library card and other documents, that doesn't mean he actually lives at the Laguna address.
State law requires that to qualify to vote in your district (or run for office), you must have "actual physical presence" in your district, and that you can only have one residence for that purpose. By sheer hours alone, it seems like the law would lean toward the Stephanie Lane home as Shaw's true residence.
Craig Morgan, an attorney representing the law firm, told Burke that Shaw isn't qualified to vote in District 17 under another section of state law, which states that:
The place where a person's family permanently resides is his residence, unless he is separated from his family...
Shaw's lawyer, Jim Huntwork, argued that the law doesn't say "legally separated."
"What we have here is a very classic case of carpet-bagging," Morgan told the court in closing.
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SHOW ME HOW
Burke said he'd "get something out tomorrow."
We won't predict what Burke will do, but we disagree with Shaw's assessment that home is where his PlayStation 3 is, (it's at his in-laws' house).
Home is where his wife and kids are. Period.
UPDATE: Shaw gets kicked off ballot by Judge Burke. Click here for details.