Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce's Brother Judge Lester Pearce Campaigns for Russell Despite Ethics Rules

The judge plays defense for Pearce loyalist Pat Oldroyd at a recent LD 19 meeting

Lester Pearce, brother to state Senate President Russell Pearce and longtime Justice of the Peace for the North Mesa Justice Court, allegedly has been campaigning on behalf of his embattled sibling, despite a prohibition on such activities by the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct.

Several individuals in Mesa have told me that Judge Pearce has been haranguing supporters of Pearce-challenger, Republican Jerry Lewis. Some who have Lewis signs in their yards have been approached by Lester Pearce, with the JP trying to convince them to replace a Lewis sign with a Pearce one.

One person who experienced Judge Pearce's wrath explained in detail how Pearce tried to convince the individual to do the switcheroo with the lawn signs. This person, who wished to remain nameless for fear of retribution from the powerful Pearce clan, refused.

Another individual, who also wished to remain anonymous for the same reasons, said several folks in Judge Pearce's neighborhood similarly had been approached.

Channel 12's Brahm Resnik recently reported that the JP's daughter circulated petitions on behalf of Olivia Cortes, the "sham" Republican candidate running in the recall. 

As I've previously reported at length, Cortes' campaign has been assisted mightily by Tea Party members and supporters of the Senate President, in the hopes she will siphon votes away from Lewis, leaving Russell Pearce victorious on November 8.

Judge Pearce was also at a recent Legislative District 19 meeting where a resolution in favor of his brother was presented by Pat Oldroyd, another Cortes petition circulator with strong ties to the Senate President. 

As you can see in the video above, when videographer Dennis Gilman and I attempted to interview Oldroyd on camera, the JP intervened and blocked us from talking with her.

Anson Clarkson, Lewis' campaign manager, was at the same LD 19 meeting, where he disclosed that Oldroyd had come to his home, soliciting signatures for Cortes' nominating petition.

Clarkson called the support for Cortes "hypocritical" in an address to those present. Afterward, he had an interesting exchange with Judge Pearce, who told him that both sides in the Lewis-Pearce tug-of-war were being hypocritical.

"By that time, I was a little bit hot," Clarkson explained. "I said, `Lester, that's not true in any way, and until you prove otherwise, you're going to have to take that back...the ends of this do not justify the means.'"

"He said, `Yes they do,'" remembered Clarkson.

The Lewis campaign manager replied to Pearce, "Then you're as unethical as Pat Oldroyd."

Clarkson related that a Lewis supporter recently told him Lester Pearce visited his house on three occasions. The first two, to ask him why he didn't have a Pearce sign in his yard. 

That annoyed the man so much he put a Lewis sign in his yard, which prompted another visit by the JP, who lectured him on his brother's positive attributes.

Additionally, Clarkson told me of a Tea Party meeting he went to, where both Russell and Lester were present, as was Pearce campaign adviser Chad Willems and East Valley Tea Party President Greg Western, the man who infamously dropped off Cortes' petitions just under deadline at the Arizona Secretary of State's Office.

Though Clarkson believed it was a Tea Party event, he was told to leave because it was actually a campaign meeting for Russell Pearce.

So what's the problem with Lester Pearce volunteering for his brother's effort to beat back the recall?

Well, the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct contains a blanket prohibition on any campaigning by judges, other than for their own runs for office.

In Canon Four, the code states that a judge or judicial candidate may not, "publicly endorse or  oppose  another candidate for any public office," nor may they, "actively take part in any political campaign other than his or her own campaign for election, reelection or retention in office."

There is no loophole for the campaigns of family members, as the code makes clear:

"Although members of the families of judges and judicial candidates are free to engage in their own political activity, there is no `family exception' to the prohibition...against a judge or candidate publicly endorsing candidates for public office. 

"A judge or judicial candidate must not become involved in, or publicly associated with, a family member's political activity or campaign for public office. To avoid public misunderstanding, judges and judicial candidates should take and should urge members of their families to take reasonable steps to avoid any implication that the judge or judicial candidate endorses any family member's candidacy or other political activity." (Italics added.)

George Riemer, executive director of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct explained to me that the code covers all judges, including justices of the peace. 

He also told me the commission is "complaint driven" when it comes to cases of possible misconduct, meaning a member of the public normally would have to lodge a complaint in order to initiate an investigation.

And if the commission finds that a judge has erred?

"If they find a violation, it depends on the severity," Riemer stated. "It could go from an informal reprimand, which is a public sanction, up to, basically, censure, suspension, even removal."

Judge Pearce is no newbie. According to Maricopa County Justice Courts spokesman James Vance, he is currently in his 15th year of service as a JP. His current term ends in 2012. Vance stated that Pearce has not indicated whether or not he will run again.

Interestingly, Pearce has had members of his own family before him in the past. Nephew Justin Pearce and Justin's ex-wife Nicole were parties in cases overseen by Uncle Lester, as were nephew Joshua Pearce and niece Shilo Sessions, each for minor lawsuits or infractions. 

Under the judicial canons, a judge would normally disqualify him or herself "in any proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." However, the judge can remain on the case if both parties agree to it, as long as an appropriate notation is made of the arrangement. 

For the record, I've left messages both on the judge's cell phone and at his office seeking comment. So far, he has not returned my calls.

The judge is a bit of an oddball, shilling for the uber-conservative National Center for Constitutional Studies, a sort of ersatz-John Birch Society that holds that the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired, and can be traced directly back to Moses. 

As wacky as that may sound, the allegations that he's been assisting his brother's campaign are more disturbing, given the fact that those who publicly support Lewis could one day be before Judge Pearce in court for small claims, a traffic ticket, an order of protection, or any number of matters. 

Which must give some Mesans pause, especially if they see Lester Pearce striding toward their door with a "Keep Russell Pearce" sign under his arm.

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