Lawyer Tom Ryan Attempts a Hail Mary Legal Pass to Boot a Fraudulent Candidate Off the Recall Ballot

Politics is an inherently dishonest profession. By contrast, most religions, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints specifically, mandate that adherents be honest in all dealings with their fellow men and women.

So perhaps it's no great revelation that mass schizophrenia has taken hold of the deeply Mormon, deeply conservative city of Mesa, where the recall of state Senate President Russell Pearce has pitted the natural duplicity of politics against the dictates of the LDS faith.

In Legislative District 18, this conflict is embodied by Olivia Cortes, the so-called "sham" recall candidate placed on the November 8 ballot through the efforts of Pearce's friends, family members, and supporters.

The Cortes campaign's sole purpose, in the words of one of her paid petition circulators, is to "dilute" the vote, sucking support away from Pearce's main challenger, Mesa educator and former CPA Jerry Lewis.

Thus, Cortes' candidacy is a dishonest one, which is highly ironic given that, according to my sources, she was recruited to run by a fellow LDS worshipper in the Mesa ward she attends, East Valley Tea Party chairman Greg Western.

(Note: Both Pearce and Lewis also are LDS, as you probably know already.)

Western, a Pearce devotee, has denied that he recruited Cortes to run, yet he admits to assisting her campaign, and he even had the gall to turn in Cortes' nominating petition sheets to the Arizona Secretary of State.

Cortes has confined herself to her small, modest Mesa abode with a rigor that reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes might have admired, particularly since Cortes, a retired semiconductor worker, lives with her sister and an aged, infirm man some have identified as her brother.

By remaining hidden and dodging the press and members of the public who've shown up at her door, she continues to bolster the grand sham that she is a legitimate candidate.

On one of my recent excursions to Casa Cortes, treks that many newshounds have now mimicked (to my great delight), I spoke with some neighbors and acquaintances.

One gentleman, whose son lives next door to Cortes, offered that she is a "quiet" woman who is getting taken advantage of by the Pearce camp. Two women who live nearby described her as "goofy," saying that she has taken to parking a block away from her residence and rarely going out.

But unless she is mentally deranged or has suffered severe brain injury, I'm not giving her a pass. Though by all accounts she's never been politically active, her cynical campaign signs have boasted the activist slogan "Sí, Se Puede," and a website and press releases in her name have made statements at variance with the truth.

The assertion on her website that she's paying for her campaign seems, well, laughable. Did she pay for the signature-gathering company Petition Pros out of her Social Security check? Ditto her campaign signs and the web design of

Sorry, but I doubt she's even had a say in the press releases sent out under her name. One, published on the far right-wing Sonoran Alliance blog, bears the imprint of a seasoned dissembler. In the release, Cortes plays the race card, accusing those questioning her campaign of "racism."

This, when she is supported by followers and family members of the most bald-faced anti-Latino bigot in Arizona history. César Chávez must be doing cartwheels in his grave.

"I gathered and submitted more than 1,000 signatures of people who believe in me," Cortes is quoted as saying in the release. "I earned the right to be on the ballot, and I intend to win. Latinos everywhere should be outraged; we deserve to be represented, and I intend to bring the Latino voice to the Arizona Senate."

Latinos everywhere should be outraged, all right — but at Cortes' participation in this ongoing deceit, not at those who have unveiled the illegitimacy of her candidacy.

Cortes did solicit signatures — and scored 20, by my count. That's far fewer than garnered by Pearce's nieces Shilo Sessions and Megan Sirrine, who also pimped petitions for Cortes. Sirrine netted 24. Sessions got 62.

And, as mentioned, Western submitted Cortes' signatures, not Cortes.

But there may be more than mere falsehood and evasion at work in Cortes' campaign. There may be lawbreaking, as well.

As elections law attorney Tom Ryan suggests in his recent lawsuit against Cortes, seeking to have her thrown off the ballot, the shenanigans Cortes and her backers are involved in could constitute a class-five felony.

Ryan cites Arizona Revised Statute 16-1006, which makes it unlawful for a person "knowingly by . . . any corrupt means, either directly or directly . . . to defraud an elector by deceiving and causing him to vote for a different person for an office or for a different measure than he intended or desired to vote for."

This statute is intended to "secure the purity of elections and guard against abuses of the elective franchise," states Article VII, Section 12 of the Arizona Constitution.

There is case law to back up Ryan's complaint. In 1959, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in Griffin vs. Buzard that a case involving a sham primary candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission could proceed to trial, even though both the primary and general election had taken place.

In that primary, candidate William A. Brooks was recruited to run against incumbent William T. Brooks by the latter's main opponent, A.P. Buzard.

Buzard's intent: confusing voters and siphoning votes from the incumbent.

The court found William A. Brooks to be a "diversionary" and "male fides" (Latin for "bad faith") candidate, and ruled in the plaintiff's favor, despite the fact that Buzard's ploy worked and he was already in office.

In reversing the lower court's ruling and sending it back for trial, the state Supreme Court noted:

"The courts must be alert to preserving the purity of elections, and its doors must not be closed to hearing charges of deception and fraud that in any way impede the exercise of a free elective franchise."

Whether Ryan is successful in this Hail Mary legal pass remains to be seen as this column goes to press. Early ballots have been printed by the county, and a few have already gone out to military and overseas voters, per federal law.

Nevertheless, there is the issue of an alleged violation of A.R.S. 16-1006.

Under Title 16, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has the obligation of enforcing this law.

I asked Horne flack Amy Rezzonico if the AG's Office is investigating or plans to investigate allegations of election fraud relating to Cortes.

"Appears it is being handled in a civil action," she replied tersely via e-mail.

However, Ryan's lawsuit does not preclude the AG's Office from investigating. Indeed, there's more smoke here than in the AG's investigation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission for possible Open Meetings Law violations.

That AIRC probe began on the basis of reports written in the Arizona Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet and in right-wing blogs. Horne has persisted in it, though his office is conflicted because it represented the AIRC for several months this year, and because Horne has had ex parte communications with Republican AIRC Commissioner Rick Stertz.

Will Horne's office look into the Cortes affair? I'm not going to bust a lung waiting for it, though I suppose the AG may take it on as a whitewash-in-the-making.

See, Horne has endorsed fellow GOPer Pearce's bid to survive the recall. The fix is in, and this fraud on the electorate continues unimpeded.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons