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Cortes bows out to avoid court hearing

Senate President Russell Pearce and Olivia Cortes

Olivia Cortes, who faced a lawsuit claiming she was a sham candidate, withdrew today from the recall election targeting Senate President Russell Pearce.

Her withdrawal from the high-profile race was part of a deal she made to avoid having to face another court hearing on Friday in which more witnesses were expected to link her candidacy with Pearce supporters.

Cortes’ lawyer and the lawyer seeking to disqualify the Mesa woman from the ballot confirmed that both sides came to an agreement that the lawsuit against her would be dropped if she bowed out of the race.

Tom Ryan, the lawyer who filed suit against Cortes, said she dropped out because she knew Friday’s hearing would have been “a disaster.” Ryan said he will now turn over evidence of the alleged election fraud to the Attorney General’s office and the Secretary of State for investigation.

For weeks, Cortes has been under unwavering scrutiny that she was a “diversionary” candidate designed to pull votes away from Pearce’s main challenger, charter school executive Jerry Lewis.

Cortes’ name will still be on the ballot, but signs will be posted at polling places informing voters about her withdrawal, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. Her votes will not count.

Maricopa County Judge Edward Burke earlier this week ruled that Cortes was clearly recruited by Pearce’s supporters but that he could not kick her off the ballot.

The judge said Cortes was “recruited” by East Valley Tea Party leader Greg Western at the behest of Pearce’s allies, but said it’s not the court’s job to “examine and be the final arbiter of the motives political candidates may have.”

Testimony from Pearce supporters — including high-ranking Maricopa County Republican Party officers – showed they worked to help Cortes get on the ballot. A petition circulator also testified she gathered signatures for Cortes because she believed having Cortes on the ballot would draw votes away from Lewis.

Media reports also have confirmed that Pearce’s family members helped gather signatures for Cortes.

In his ruling, Burke denied a temporary restraining order seeking to boot Cortes off the ballot, though he said it is “clear that those who have assisted Cortes have done so to divert votes from Lewis for Pearce’s benefit.”

But Burke ruled that “a concomitant right of our citizens is to run for elective office without having their motives examined by the court absent a clear case of fraud.”

Cortes’ lawyer, Anthony Tsontakis, said the lawsuit was politically motivated and it sought to achieve nothing but to defame Cortes. He also argued that government had no business inquiring into the motivations of people who gather signatures for a candidate.

Nevertheless, Tsontakis said today that Cortes wanted out of the race to avoid having to endure another court hearing. The deal was actually extended last week, both sides said, but Cortes today had Tsontakis reach out to Ryan to see if he would drop the lawsuit in exchange for her withdrawing from the race.

Lawyer Michael Wright, who is working on the case with Ryan, said they scored a clear victory.

“Our job was to get Cortes out of the race,” Wright said.

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