Right-Winger Takes Credit for Justice's Retirement, Despite Flawed Premise

Right-wing extremist Roy Warden is claiming credit for forcing Ruth McGregor (at left), Arizona's Chief Justice, into retirement early -- but don't believe him.

Warden, known for his violent-sounding rhetoric and penchant for burning Mexican flags, left comments with the claim on several online articles about McGregor's decision to leave a year before her five-year term is up, including on a Valley Fever post. A second comment on our post refers to alleged hundreds of "angry letters" to the state Legislature and Commission on Judicial Conduct. The second post appears to come from someone other than Warden, but you never know.

Now, it's true that Warden (below) and a handful of supporters protested outside the Supreme Court in December and some people did complain to the Commission. But here's the deal: They were protesting and complaining about something that never happened.

Warden and crew mistakenly believed that McGregor had banned the used of certain charged terms like "illegal alien" from Arizona courts. But she hadn't -- nor could she. Not only do state Supreme Court justices lack the power to cancel the First Amendment, but the phrase "illegal alien" appears in federal statutes.

The rumor evolved after a Hispanic lawyers group wrote a letter to McGregor, saying it "highly discouraged" the use of various terms. McGregor replied telling the group she'd pass along their concerns. Through a spokewoman, McGregor tells New Times she handed out the letter to judges at an October 21, 2008 meeting without commenting on its content.

But a falsity began spreading on the Internet that McGregor had somehow banned the terms. An article by Judicial Watch containing bogus information was circulated far and wide in the blogosphere, where it appears lodged for good. Despite the inaccuracy, it led local wingnuts like Warden to push for McGregor's ouster.

Meanwhile, conservatism's prince, Rush Limbaugh, disavowed the rumor with a lengthy correction.

Cari Gerchick, Supreme Court spokeswoman, says McGregor can state "unequivocally" that the flap over alleged banned words had nothing to do with McGregor's recent decision to retire.

No doubt.

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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.