Huppenthal Found Innocent of Theft of Campaign Sign

Republican State Senator John Huppenthal has been acquitted on charges that he improperly removed a campaign sign last election day.

Huppenthal, who has represented Chandler as either state representative or senator since 1992, had been charged with theft of the sign and tampering with a political sign, both misdemeanors.

The East Valley Tribune reports that Judge Daniel Washburn of the Chandler City Court decided Huppenthal had proved he had permission to remove the sign. Plus, the question of who owned the sign wasn't clear. Huppenthal may have taken it from the hands of Democratic activist Ruth Levin, but she didn't prove she owned it, says the Trib's take on the decision.

The Arizona Republic article on Huppenthal's court victory takes the side of the alleged victim, Levin. The headline reads:

Retiree in Huppenthal case said she stood up for beliefs

Mention of Huppenthal's acquittal doesn't come till the second sentence:

Ruth Levin doesn't mind being known as the "elderly woman" whose tussle with a state senator over a campaign sign put a spotlight on the politician's behavior.

Although a judge found Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, "not guilty" of misdemeanor theft and tampering with a campaign sign, Levin said she hopes the attention brought to his behavior will stay in voters' minds.

"He silenced the comments made on that sign, and if we are to have a democracy, opinions have to be discussed; they can't be silenced," she said after the verdict was announced late Thursday.

The 78-year-old Chandler resident and former Vestal, N.Y., civic leader said she has spent most of her life standing up for her beliefs "and I don't scare easy."

The Tribune article by Gary Grado sounds an identical note:

Ruth Levin, the Democratic worker who struggled to keep him from taking it, said while he may have won the case on a technicality, he is not absolved ethically.

"Opinions have to be discussed; they cannot be silenced," Levin said.

The sign referred to someone's idea of how Huppenthal handled the issue of air quality at Tempe's Corona del Sol High School. Levin told the press it had been put there by the Democratic Party.

So in the end, Huppenthal won because he has the right to cut a sign off its posts and then yank it out of an old lady's hands.

Good job, Senator!

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.