Russell Pearce Claims "Absolute Legislative Immunity" in False Arrest of Sal Reza

Humiliated 12-point loser and ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce figures the rules don't apply to him. 

That's been a life-long pattern, from the shenanigans that got him fired from his post as head of the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles to the sham candidacy of Olivia Cortes in last year's recall election, which somehow Pearce knew nothing about, even though his friends, family members and hard-core supporters put her on the ballot.

That's why it should life nary an eyebrow that the prejudiced Mesa pol is claiming in federal court that he has "absolute legislative immunity" for his involvement in the false arrest and imprisonment of Phoenix human rights activist Salvador Reza last year at the state Senate.

See, Reza is suing Pearce in federal court over the incident, which occurred February 24, 2011. Reza was going to visit state Senator Steve Gallardo, when he was stopped by the Senate's security detail, made up of two plainclothes officers from the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The DPS officers informed Reza that he was banned from entering the building and must leave by order of state Senate President Pearce, who had blacklisted Reza, supposedly because Reza had been "disorderly and disruptive" a couple of days before as he and other activists watched a senate appropriations committee hearing. 

Actually, I was at that committee hearing, and Reza was not in the room. Instead, he and a large  group of activists had been relegated to another room in the senate, where they watched the proceedings via a large TV set. Apparently, some of the activists applauded at different times, but neither Reza nor the others there were asked to leave.

When Reza returned to the Senate on the 24th, this was somehow used to justify banning him from the building. Reza asked the DPS officers for documentation of Pearce's order, and the DPS duo promptly arrested Reza and a woman who was with him, shoving Reza's face against a glass wall in the process.

Reza was kept in a room in the senate for an hour, then transported to the Fourth Avenue Jail, putatively for "trespassing," and held in custody for five hours. The county attorney has never prosecuted him, and Reza has since filed his federal lawsuit with the help of civil rights attorney Stephen Montoya, a bulldog of the law if there ever was one.

In the complaint, Montoya alleges false arrest and imprisonment, and accuses Pearce and the DPS officers of violations of Reza's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

My favorite part of the complaint is where Montoya refers to Pearce as a "racist." Which he most definitely is. Read on:

Mr. Reza has been a vocal and consistent critic of Russell Pearce's policies and political affiliations, and Mr. Pearce is aware of such criticism.

Russell Pearce is a racist, with a well-documented history of racism toward Mexicans and individuals of Mexican ancestry.

For example, Russell Pearce has publicly addressed, embraced, befriended, supported, sponsored, and mentored white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Russell Pearce has also mocked individuals of Mexican ancestry and referred to them as "wetbacks."

Russell Pearce banned Mr. Reza from entering the State Senate building based on Mr. Reza's public criticism of Mr. Pearce and his policies and because Mr. Reza is of Mexican ancestry.

The Rose Law Group, the go-to legal beagles for wingnuts in trouble, is defending Pearce in the matter. In January, Pearce's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss, based on their contention that, "Senate President Pearce is entitled to absolute legislative immunity for the actions alleged in Mr. Reza's Complaint."

Sound familiar? Remember when Pearce's pal, former state Senate Majority Leader Scott Bundgaard invoked his legislative immunity from arrest while the legislature's in session -- this, after a roadside fracas with his ex-girlfriend Aubry Ballard? Pearce called his colleague at the time the "victim" in that situation.

Now, Pearce's attorneys are arguing that Pearce, in his former role as Senate President, was allowed to violate an individual's constitutional rights with impunity, subject them to false arrest, a roughing up and imprisonment, all because these activities are somehow within the "legitimate legislative sphere," and therefore copacetic.

The motion to dismiss objects to Montoya's characterization of Pearce as a racist, but it states that it doesn't matter if Pearce did have a racist intent.

It reads:

"Furthermore, Senate President Pearce vigorously disputes Mr. Reza's characterization of him as a `racist'and that Senate President Pearce's motivation to restrict his access was not because of his disruptive behavior, but rather because of his ethnicity and viewpoint. Even if these incendiary allegations were true, however, Senate President Pearce still would be entitled to absolute legislative immunity."

Gee, talk about a recipe for total dictatorship. Fortunately, the Rose Law Group is not known for its expertise in constitutional law. As Montoya points out in his rebuttal, "Senator Pearce's conduct was administrative in nature and not subject to absolute legislative immunity."

Montoya notes, by quoting precedent, that the U.S. Supreme Court has "been quite sparing in its recognition of claims to absolute official immunity" and "has been careful not to extend the scope of [absolute immunity] further than its purposes require."

He lays out a four prong test for a grant of such immunity, enumerated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Pearce's violation of Reza's rights fails each one.

"In my opinion," Montoya told me recently, "[Pearce's action is] not going to be subject to legislative immunity because he was acting as the administrator of that building the way the office manager downstairs in my building behaves."

Though, undoubtedly, Montoya's building's manager is nowhere near the scoundrel that Pearce is. The failed politician's attitude is one of "my way or the highway." Thing is, it's just that attitude that lead to his historic loss in Legislative District 18.

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