A judge has scheduled a Friday hearing to allow new witnesses to testify in a lawsuit that seeks to disqualify the candidacy of a Mesa woman whose critics say is in the race to help Senate President Russell Pearce keep his seat.
Election Attorney Thomas Ryan, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of a Pearce critic, plans to call more witnesses during a 3:30 p.m. evidentiary hearing.
Trial court judge Edward Burke on Monday refused to grant a preliminary injunction seeking to throw Republican Olivia Cortes off the ballot.
But he also rejected Cortes’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit alleging she’s a “diversionary” candidate who’s running to siphon off votes against fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, who is considered to be Pearce’s main contender.
Burke ruled that Cortes was clearly recruited by Pearce’s supporters who also helped her qualify as a candidate for the Nov. 8 recall election, but that he will not kick her off the ballot.
The judge said it’s not the court’s job to “examine and be the final arbiter of the motives political candidates may have.”
After the hearing, people came forward with new information and Ryan intends to present that evidence in court, he said.
He wouldn’t say who the witnesses will be, but he said they would include Pearce’s supporters.
Ryan admitted it’d be highly difficult to remove Cortes’ name from the ballot at this point – many ballots have already been printed – but he said the court could still declare her candidacy null.
“It could agree that the new information raises evidence that had not been obtained before nor could it have been obtained before, and it could have her candidacy declared null and void,” he said.
Ryan’s lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Mesa resident, claims that Cortes was part of a “cynical ploy” to divert Hispanic votes from Lewis.
Cortes’ lawyer, Anthony Tsontakis, said the lawsuit was politically motivated and it sought to achieve nothing but to defame Cortes.
The lawyer also made a compelling reason against removing Cortes from the ballot. The government, he said, had no business inquiring into the motivations of people who gather signatures for a candidate.
He added that removing a candidate from the ballot would chill political speech.
Tsontakis said the court already appropriately ruled not to remove Cortes from the ballot based on First Amendment grounds.
“Those things may or may not be true. But it’s not the court’s business,” Tsontakis said of allegations that Cortes was recruited to siphon off votes from Lewis.