This justice, he ain't no good judge of the law.
I mean Mesa Justice of the Peace Lester Pearce, brother of embattled state Senate President Russell Pearce, who apparently has abrogated Arizona's judicial code of conduct by actively campaigning on behalf of his brother.
On October 14, I reported that the minutes from the infamous GOP Legislative District 19 meeting -- where a resolution in favor of the Senator's re-election was debated, and where a Tea Party plot to place sham candidate Olivia Cortes on the ballot in Legislative District 18 recall race was revealed -- would show that Judge Pearce spoke in favor of his brother and against the recall at the beginning of the meeting.
As videographer Dennis Gilman and I arrived late that evening, we missed capturing this on film, though Judge Pearce, whom at the time we did not know by sight, blocked us from questioning Pearce supporter Pat Oldroyd. That, we did get on tape.
Later, at a debate in Mesa between Senator Pearce and challenger Jerry Lewis, when I began to question the JP on various issues, including reports that he helped his nieces solicit signatures to put Cortes on the ballot, he became so enraged that he grabbed Gilman's camera.
After this, he denied helping to solicit signatures, though he later told the Arizona Capitol Times that he had been riding along with one of his nieces when she decided to stop at some homes and solicit signatures for Cortes.
On another occasion, I confronted the judge about an account of him going to someone's door and arguing that the individual should remove a Jerry Lewis sign from that person's front yard.
The judge explained that he had approached a neighbor about a Lewis sign, but that this had only been a joke.
However, the LD19 minutes not only document that Judge Pearce campaigned for his brother at the Republican Party function, it calls into question all of the JP's explanations, rationalizations and denials.
I recently obtained a copy of the finalized minutes. Item six clearly states, "Lester Pearce, North Mesa Justice Court - Lester Pearce spoke in support of Senator Russell Pearce and against the recall."
(You can read the minutes for yourself, here.)
This statement is backed up by the numerous witnesses present, including LD19 chair Wayne Gardner.
Canon four of the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge may not "publicly endorse or oppose another candidate for public office," nor may a judge "actively take part in any political campaign other than his or her own campaign for election, re-election or retention in office."
The code indicates that there is no exception or loophole in this dictate for family members of a judge. A judge is prohibited from campaigning for his brother, for instance, or against his brother's opponent.
There is good reason for such a prohibition. Judges are in a unique position to retaliate against those they oppose politically. A judge coming to someone's door, being present when signatures are solicited, or speaking publicly for or against politicians, conveys an implied threat, and with it an aura of menace and intimidation.
Which is why Judge Pearce must be held accountable by Arizona's Commission on Judicial Conduct. Those who come before Judge Pearce have to know that they will not be ruled against or otherwise be affected negatively by their opposition to Pearce's sibling.
The ACJC's investigations are complaint-driven. When I asked Arizona Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer if a complaint had already been made regarding Judge Pearce's activities, she had the following response:
"We cannot confirm or deny the existence of a complaint or investigation. Per Commission Rule 9(a), `In formal proceedings, the record shall be public after the filing of the judge's response to formal charges or the expiration of the time provided for such a response, the entry of an order approving an agreement for discipline by consent, or the waiver of confidentiality by the judge.'"
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