Monday morning, oral arguments are scheduled to begin in the legal challenge to the recall of state Senate President Russell Pearce.
Lawyers representing the Arizona Secretary of State, Maricopa County Elections and the recall committee Citizens for a Better Arizona will square off against attorney Lisa Hauser, who has identified herself in the past as working on behalf of the anti-recall committee Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall.
The hearing before Superior Court Judge Hugh Hegyi will address motions to dismiss Hauser's complaint, a complaint in which Mesa resident Franklin Bruce Ross is identified as the plaintiff.
Of course, the unwritten plaintiff is Pearce, because it would save his political hide if Hauser's lawsuit were to be successful.
Pearce essentially admitted as much recently on right-wing San Diego lip-flapper Roger Hedgecock's radio show, where Pearce was soliciting donations from out-of-staters.
"There is a legal challenge in court," Pearce told Hedgecock. "We certainly have the law and the constitution on our side. Let's hope the judge agrees with us."
Per state statute, any qualified elector in Pearce's Legislative District 18 can a bring a legal challenge. Pearce could have been the plaintiff, but Ross has scored the role of Pearce's proxy.
So who, exactly, is Franklin B. Ross?
Well, there's a page on the Arizona Tea Party Web site under Ross' name, and according to county elections, he is registered to vote in LD 18 as a Republican, is self-employed, and just turned 55 on July 24.
Other than that, there's about as much info out there on him as stealth recall candidate Olivia Cortes, whom I blogged about recently.
Concerning Ross' financial history, Citizens for a Better Arizona recently released a score of public documents easily obtainable from the county recorder's Web site and from the clerk of superior court.
One court record indicates that Citibank won a judgment against Ross for more than $21,600 in 2010. The Citibank bill is attached to one court filing. The address is the same as on Ross' voter registration record.
On file with the recorder are several notices of trustee sales, with original principal totaling around $1.8 million, in the names of Franklin B. Ross and his wife, or just Ross alone.
A notice of trustee sale is traditionally associated with a foreclosure and is required to be filed with the county recorder's office. The non-profit Arizona Foreclosure Prevention Task Force defines a notice of trustee sale, thus:
"A notice giving specific information about the loan in default and the foreclosure proceedings about to take place. This notice is recorded with the county where the property is located and advertised as stated in the deed of trust and as dictated by state law."
In sending the documents to the media, CBA co-founder Randy Parraz wondered how Ross could afford to pay for a high-priced legal beagle like Lisa Hauser of the firm Gammage & Burnham.
"It would seem more appropriate for Mr. Franklin to focus on getting his own financial house in order," Parraz stated in his e-mail to the press, "than trying to undermine the will of over 10,000 voters in LD 18 who work hard every day to pay their mortgages and their credit card bills."
The documents CBA sent out are the same as those on file with the recorder and the court. Also, I was able to match each notice of sale with the corresponding "deed upon sale," giving the dollar figure for which each property sold.
I gave Hauser a call and sent her an e-mail asking how Ross came to be her client. So far, no reply.
Initially, I could not find a current phone listing for Ross. So I drove down to Mesa to knock on the door of his one-story tract home.
Ross did not open the door, opting to speak through it instead.
Here's a transcription of our brief discussion:
"Yeah, who's there?"
"Is this Mr. Ross?" I asked.
"Could be, who's this?"
"My name is Stephen Lemons," I informed him. "I'm a reporter with New Times. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about your lawsuit involving Russell Pearce."
"Yeah, there'd be no comment with New Times," he said.
"Just one quick question," I hastened. "The people that are on the opposite side of the lawsuit, Citizens for a Better Arizona, they have documents showing that you have [had] a lot of...debts: a $22,000 debt to Citibank...several notices of trustee sale equaling about $1.8 million."
"Oh, really? What's that got to do with Russell Pearce?" he wondered.
"Well," I replied, "the question is how would you be able to afford a lawyer? How could you afford Lisa Hauser?"
Long pause, then, "You might want to call her and ask her that."
"I did and she hasn't returned my call yet, so..."
"Well there must be a reason for that," he cut me off. "Thank you and have a nice day."
Which ended our discussion.
I later found a phone number for Ross in an unredacted exhibit filed with the court by Hauser, and gave him a follow-up call. He didn't answer, so I left a message, asking for his comment on his financial info. If he gets back to me, I'll update this post.
There's no record of bankruptcy on file for Ross. The trustee sales took place in 2009 and 2010. And Franklin Bruce Ross still owns property in Mesa, and has a place in Prescott, according to the assessors' offices for Maricopa and Yavapai counties.
The name Franklin Bruce Ross is also associated with two businesses in the Arizona Corporation Commission's database: Stoneface Creations and Service Realty and Investments.
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Hypothetically, it's possible Ross is paying Hauser on his own.
Or perhaps Hauser has offered her services pro bono. Though I suspect neither of these is the case.
Once the various candidate and fundraising committees file financial paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office, Hauser's bill might be listed therein.
Meanwhile, Hauser, if not Ross as well, will be in court Monday. Maybe she'll reveal who's paying her tab then. I'll be sure to ask.