City Hall

Councilmember Nowakowski's Sister Files Lawsuit to Defend Brother From Recall

Phoenix City Councilmember Michael Nowakowski's sister filed a lawsuit this week challenging an effort to recall her brother.

That comes after the city clerk validated more than the 1,337 signatures required to trigger an August recall election of Nowakowski. Local activist Sean Sweat and his Urban Phoenix Project PAC celebrated the news, while Nowakowski vowed to fight the effort. 

It looks like that fight may play out in court.

On Tuesday, a well-connected resident of Nowakowski's district filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court claiming Sweat and his PAC completely bungled the process.

Rosa Maria Morales, Nowakowski's sister, claims Sweat and his PAC missed three requirements before and after they submitted their petition, thereby invalidating the signatures. Morales is represented by Kory Langhofer of Statecraft PLLC, a conservative law firm.

Langhofer wrote that Urban Phoenix Project PAC failed to attach the text of his Sweat's recall to the petition. The PAC also allegedly failed to attach a copy of Sweat's petition when he filed his application for a recall in the first place. Finally, Langhofer wrote, the petition does not explicitly state that every signer is a resident of Nowakowski’s electoral district.

"We have a reasonably strong case," Langhofer said. The lawsuit also names Phoenix Clerk Denise Archibald, who is responsible for recall petitions in the city, and Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who's charged with verifying the voter registration status of people who sign petitions.

Reached via text message on Thursday afternoon, Sweat said he had not yet seen the complaint. Given a copy of the complaint by Phoenix New Times, Sweat said, “Nowakowski clearly knows the voters of District 7 no longer support him after his constant scandals and unethical behavior, so he’s trying every trick he can to avoid having to face them."

Nowakowski's campaign denied any involvement in the lawsuit.

"Since the recall election effort came to our attention, there have been many family members and supporters who have expressed concerns about what that radical PAC and its leaders are doing," said campaign spokesperson Patty Johnson.

Johnson confirmed that Morales is Nowakowski's sister. Morales could not be reached for comment.

Nowakowski, who represents southwest Phoenix, has been the subject of numerous controversies in the last several years. In 2015, critics accused Nowakowski of failing to disclose a conflict of interest in a city development deal, as reported by the Arizona Republic. A city-funded private investigation and a state attorney general investigation both found no wrongdoing by Nowakowksi.

The next year, Nowakowski came under fire after a video emerged of his dismay at gay marriage and the rights of transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. 

In its application to recall Nowakowski, Urban Phoenix PAC claimed the councilmember “has neglected the needs of the constituents in District 7, abused his City Council office by participating in a lucrative downtown land deal that involved his private employer, and has voted against Phoenix’s future by putting our vital South Central light rail project at risk.”

Although Nowakowski is affiliated with Democrats, the law firm filing the complaint predominately represents an array of Republicans and conservative interests.

Statecraft PLLC has taken up several cases related to elections and ballot initiatives, recently representing the Arizona Republican Party in a challenge to Maricopa County's ballot-counting practices after the November general election.

According to its website, lawyers for the firm have also served as counsel for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, and Project Veritas, a right-wing group known for releasing deceptively edited "sting" videos to harm liberals.