Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce's Brother, Judge Lester Pearce, Stumped for Brother at LD 19 Meeting

According to minutes from the infamous September 15 GOP Legislative District 19 meeting, where an effort by supporters of state Senate President Russell Pearce to place sham candidate Olivia Cortes on the LD 18 recall ballot was exposed, Justice of the Peace Lester Pearce stumped for his brother and opposed his recall, in violation of Arizona's Code of Judicial Conduct.

The minutes, which were approved last night by the LD 19 board, include the following sentence, according to my source: "Lester Pearce spoke in support of Senator Russell Pearce and against the recall."

Phoenix videographer Dennis Gilman and I were present at this meeting, but we arrived late, after Judge Pearce had spoken on his brother's behalf. However, we were able to document a debate over a resolution endorsing Pearce by some of the very people who had been soliciting signatures for Cortes, such as former LD 19 chair Pat Oldroyd and Mesa Republican Dan Grimm.

Despite a contentious back-and-forth, no vote was held on the resolution. During it, Oldroyd was challenged by Anson Clarkson, campaign manager for Pearce foe Jerry Lewis, and she admitted to shilling for Cortes while at the same time supporting Pearce.

After the meeting, Judge Pearce blocked Gilman and me from questioning Oldroyd about her involvement in the Cortes campaign.

Wayne Gardner, the current LD 19 chair, confirmed that the minutes contained "something to the effect" that Judge Pearce had stumped for his sibling. He was present at the September 15 meeting and told me that he does remember the judge speaking out for his brother's candidacy.

Gardner said that he would make the minutes available to me once they're finalized. I have a copy of the amended minutes with the sentence about Judge Pearce's statement. 

LD 19 precinct committeeman Dave Johnson, chief of staff to Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, also was at the meeting and remembered Lester Pearce campaigning for the senator.

"He just stumped for his brother," Johnson said. "It was unremarkable to me at the time because I didn't know anything about the canon law. It was totally what I expected him to say. He talked about what a good guy Russell is and the bad guys against him. It was pretty clear."

The canon law Johnson refers to is the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct, which outlines the dos and don'ts for all Arizona judges.

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

Investigations by Arizona's Commission on Judicial Conduct are complaint-driven. Punishment can range anywhere from an informal reprimand to removal.

This is the only the latest bit of evidence added to the Camelback Mountain-size pile of proof showing that Judge Pearce has been actively involved in his brother's campaign.

As I reported in my column this week, Lester Pearce admitted to having been at a campaign event for his brother that took place during a Tea Party meeting long before Cortes dropped out of the race.

Also present at that meeting were the senator, Pearce campaign manager Chad Willems, and Greg Western, chairman of the East Valley Tea Party and the man who recruited Cortes to run as a diversionary candidate in the recall.

In addition, Judge Pearce was driving around with his niece Shilo Sessions as Sessions solicited signatures for Cortes to put her name on the ballot. 

Though Pearce has denied soliciting signatures for Cortes, he recently admitted to the Capitol Times that he was in the same car with Sessions as she did so.

"I needed a ride and I rode with her and she stopped a couple of times," he said. "(It was) probably indiscretion on my part to have gotten in the car with her and then her saying, 'Oh, I need to stop here.'"

An indiscretion, indeed. Another indiscretion occurred when Gilman and I questioned the judge outside the East Valley Institute of Technology, before a debate between his brother and Lewis was to begin.

Angered, the longtime justice of the peace grabbed Gilman's camera in an effort not to be filmed. He later apologized for the incident.

The JP also was in attendance at a recent LD 18 meeting as his brother answered questions from fellow Republicans. There, I asked him about an incident in which he attempted to strong-arm a Lewis supporter who had a Lewis for Senate sign in his yard. 

"I went to my old bishop [in the LDS church]," he told me of the sign matter. "And jokingly said . . . 'Interesting thing, you need a little family counseling?' Joke, joke . . . If you'll be happy to go ask him that, he'll tell you the same."

I don't know if we were speaking of the same individual, but the person I spoke to did not find it to be a source of levity. At least, that's not what was expressed to me. I told the judge that people were afraid of him because of his power as a justice of the peace.

"These are my neighbors, they are not afraid of me," he insisted.

I observed that he could sign warrants, approve orders of protection, and so forth.

"Don't confuse the law," he said, placing a hand on my shoulder. "The law is that I do the law. And if they don't do anything wrong, I don't sign any warrants. I protect their community and their neighborhood. 

"I protect this city because that's my job. And I sign warrants [at] two in the morning, four in the morning for DUIs because that's what law enforcement calls me about. I sign them on Saturdays and Sundays. I'm on call 24-7."

The only comfort I draw from that is that I do not live in the district Judge Pearce presides over. And you can better believe I'll be extra careful when driving through it.

Are the Pearces above the law? Is Judge Pearce above the dictates of the Code of Judicial Conduct? Sometimes it seems as if the only law that applies to the brothers Pearce is the law of gravity. And I suspect they'd defy that one, if they could.

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