Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce's Cortes Scandal: Tom Ryan Challenges the Media, Lester Pearce Flips Out

Dennis Gilman's video of Ryan's press conference yesterday

Attorney Tom Ryan was in rare form Thursday afternoon as he faced the media with his client, Mary Lou Boettcher, the plaintiff in the lawsuit against sham candidate Olivia Cortes, and his co-counsel H. Micheal Wright. The scene was Mesa's Wright House, owned by Wright's family.

Cortes dropped out of the Legislative District 18 recall race for state Senate earlier in the day, an obvious move to save the hides of the various associates, family members and political operatives who had been subpoenaed to appear in court Friday before Judge Edward Burke. There, they would have had to answer questions under oath about the various illegal acts alleged of them. 

Ryan explained that now that Cortes had withdrawn her candidacy, the Friday hearing would be moot, as the point of the underlying lawsuit had been to force Cortes' withdrawal. Though her name will remain on the ballot, notices will be posted at the polls advising voters that she has withdrawn.

The lawsuit served its purpose, Ryan maintained, and is now over. He stated that he is making the evidence that he and Wright have amassed available to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, the Arizona Attorney General's Office, and the Arizona Secretary of State, evidence supposedly linking political operative Constantin Querard and Pearce's campaign directly to Cortes' diversionary and fraudulent candidacy.

"We have alleged very serious violations here," Ryan declared. "What we have alleged is that this campaign has engaged in a Class 5 felony. It's now up to the authorities to pursue it. We've done all we can do."

He maintained that the evidence was "very compelling" that Pearce's campaign helped recruit and attempted to recruit not only Cortes, but other potential sham candidates too smart to lend their names to the effort. 

One reporter asked why he thought Cortes had dropped out.

"You presume she dropped out," he replied. "Plain and simple, it's the Pearce forces that realized the jig was up. They did not want this hearing to go forward...they wanted out of this."

Ryan also alleged that the Senator's brother, Justice of the Peace Lester Pearce, had helped solicit signatures for Cortes' nominating petition and campaigned on behalf of his sibling in violation of the state's code of judicial conduct.

"I believe you will find that Lester Pearce was involved in carrying Cortes signs around," he said. "Lester Pearce was involved in taking his nieces around to get petitions signed for Olivia Cortes...He was also involved in meetings in the Russell Pearce campaign to strategize with them. The evidence is very strong in that regard."

(Ryan told me later that he misspoke, and that he meant to say that Lester Pearce had been carrying his brother's signs around. As a judge, Lester Pearce is prohibited from campaigning for anyone other than himself. There is no exception for family members.)

Interestingly, less than hour after the Ryan-Wright press conference, just prior to the debate between Senator Pearce and his now sole foe Jerry Lewis at the East Valley Institute of Technology, videographer Dennis Gilman and I spotted Judge Pearce outside the campus' auditorium.

We approached him, and I asked him about the fact that he'd been subpoenaed to testify at the Friday hearing. The judge turned testy, then advanced on Gilman's camera, grabbing it, and telling him to get it out of his face, though it was the judge that had approached Gilman, not vice versa.

He withdrew a bit, and under questioning, denied that he had helped solicit signatures for Cortes. I told him I wished I could ask him that under oath.

"Okay, it'd be the same answer," he told me. 

Under some prompting by Gilman, the judge finally extended his hand in apology. Gilman said he would not press assault charges, this time. Next time, he warned he would, even if his assailant was a justice of the peace.

But back to Ryan's press conference, where the silver-maned lawyer had a challenge for the local Fourth Estate.

"Your job is not over," he told them. "Your job is to continue to ask the tough questions of the Pearce campaign. You should go out and talk to Mr. Querard. You should go out and talk to [Pearce adviser Chuck Coughlin]. And you should not let Mr. Pearce up for air. Because they know full well what happened here."

He urged them to check out the various independent expenditure committees involved and to stay on Querard like white on rice. He denounced Querard in the strongest terms, pointing out that six years ago, he went to court against Querard on behalf of the Maricopa County Republican Party.

At that time, Querard had been caught sending out thousands of mailers to unsuspecting voters, making it seem as if the mailers were from the county GOP, asking if recipients wanted an early ballot sent to them. The mailers were sent back to Querard's Ahwatukee post office box, and Querard mined them for data, which he then sold to candidates he was representing.

"We got an injunction shutting his process down then," Ryan recalled. "One of the worst things that have come out of this whole clean elections process are people like Mr. Querard who game the system. It's not funny, it's not right, it's not appropriate. And our [state] Constitution mandates the purity of elections."

Indeed, back in 2004, Tom Liddy, then chair of the county GOP, was so incensed by Querard's actions, he criticized them in an e-mail to a fellow Republican, accusing Querard of "utilizing illegal tactics to launder tax-exempt non-profit money into politics."

Though Querard had been forced by the court to turn over the mailers to county elections, he sued Liddy for defamation, and lost, badly.

Indeed, the judge in the defamation case, Mark Aceto, stated the following in his minute entry, ruling against Querard:

"Even if it is assumed for the sake of discussion that the statement in question constitutes libel per se, the Court would still find in favor of Defendant based on the evidence. This is so because of the Court's belief and finding, to the extent it is inferred that the statement relates to Defendant, that the statement is true."

In other words, Querard's a political viper, slithering on his belly like the serpent in the Garden of Eden after the fall. An open Pearce operative, he often brags of his access to Pearce at Republican meetings, as he did at a Legislative District 15 GOP meeting in June of this year.

And yet, Pearce denied his loyal servant three times after the debate, as reporters encircled him, forcing him to answer my questions.

"Constantin Querard is not working on my [behalf]," he responded when I asked. "That I know of."

Totally untrue. Querard has an independent expenditure committee, Arizona Deserves the Best, putting up pro-Pearce signs in Mesa. I pointed out that Querard had challenged signatures in favor of the recall, submitted by Citizens for a Better Arizona.

"I didn't organize that, he may have, you're asking if I know," Pearce shot back as I pressed him.

"Does he have a direct connection to Olivia Cortes?" I asked.

"Ask him, I don't know," Pearce dissembled.

"If laws were broken in the Cortes affair, should they be enforced?" I queried.

"If laws were broke, I'm a believer in the rule of law," he said.

"Even if it involves members of your own family?" I wondered.

"My family didn't break any laws," he replied.

Dennis Welch of the Arizona Guardian wondered if Pearce had asked his family members, his nieces and his brother, why they worked for Cortes.

He avoided the question, even after Welch asked it twice. 

"Senator, answer the question," I ordered.

"When I read it in the paper, I talked to my two nieces, both shed a lot of tears over their involvement," he said, "and [they] were broken hearted because of the games the media plays with them and they thought they did nothing wrong. I wouldn't have done it. I wish they hadn't done it. They did nothing wrong."

"And Franklin B. Ross and the East Valley Tea Party, why were they involved?" I followed up.

He didn't respond. Ross, of course, is the Pearce loyalist who was the plaintiff in the failed lawsuit attempting to stop the recall election. A Tea Party member, Ross also circulated a petition sheet for Cortes.

As for the debate, well, it was mano a mano, sans Cortes, and Lewis was far more aggressive than I expected, taking swings at Pearce, and landing more than one punch. My assessment of Lewis' performance will come in a subsequent blog post.

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