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Home / Capitol Insiders / Lawyers: Russell Pearce’s brother played key role in Cortes campaign

Lawyers: Russell Pearce’s brother played key role in Cortes campaign

North Mesa Justice of the Peace and brother of Senate President Russell Pearce, Lester Pearce. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

The lawyers who fought to get alleged sham candidate Olivia Cortes disqualified in the Mesa recall election planned to put Senate President Russell Pearce’s brother on the stand in a now-cancelled trial.

Lawyers Tom Ryan and Michael Wright said Lester Pearce, the North Mesa Justice of the Peace, was among those who were subpoenaed to testify about whether they played a role in helping Cortes qualify for the ballot and campaign for her.

The hearing was canceled because Cortes struck an 11th-hour deal Thursday to voluntarily withdraw from the recall election in exchange for having the lawsuit against her dropped.

Cortes was under dogged scrutiny by critics who charged for weeks that she was helped onto the ballot by Pearce supporters, his family members and other high-ranking Republican officers as part of a plan to siphon votes away from the top challenger in the race, charter school executive Jerry Lewis.

The lawyers said they had strong evidence to show that Lester Pearce, who is also a former senator, took his niece to gather signatures for Cortes and that he was in a campaign strategy meeting attended by Greg Western, the Tea Party activist who was Cortes’ de facto campaign manager and advisor. Russell Pearce was also in that alleged meeting, the lawyers claimed.

“He facilitated getting signatures for Cortes,” Wright told the Arizona Capitol Times.

Wright said he also subpoenaed two of Russell Pearce’s nieces, Western, political consultant Constantin Querard and Diane Burns, who operates a signature-gathering firm that was supposedly paid to collect signatures for Cortes.

Russell Pearce’s two nieces, Megan Sirrine and Shilo Sessions, had collected signatures for Cortes.

Querard, a longtime political strategist, is running an independent expenditure committee to help Pearce keep his seat. He has vigorously denied having anything to do with Cortes.

Wright said the legal team was prepared to call other witnesses to refute the testimony of Lester Pearce, as well.

They were also prepared to show that Cortes knew what her alleged role was in the campaign — to peel off votes from Lewis, who is Pearce’s lone contender in the Nov. 8 recall election now that Cortes has dropped out, Wright said.

Wright said they would have shown in court that Western attended a “campaign strategy” meeting with the Pearce brothers and another person.

Cortes had told the court she was a legitimate candidate who wanted to offer her views on the illegal immigration issue. She said she was inspired to run after hearing Western speak about the U.S. Constitution at their church.

“What we told the court was the body of evidence that from all of those sources would show that the Pearce campaign was closely associated with the Cortes campaign,” Wright said.

In a press briefing announcing the lawsuit’s dismissal Thursday, Ryan said Cortes withdrew from the race because she and “Pearce forces understood that tomorrow was going to be a disaster for them.”

After Thursday night’s debate in Mesa, Russell Pearce said the charge that there’s a link between his campaign and Cortes’ short-lived candidacy is “simply not true.”

“(It’s) simply another fabrication. This whole lawsuit was a sham,” Russell Pearce said. “Jerry Lewis’ camp went to her to try to talk her out of running. That was shameful, I thought, and now they’ve run her out because they’ve scared her, intimidated her, (and) filed a lawsuit. Where’s Gloria Allred when you need her?”

Lester Pearce, who watched the debate, also strongly denied having helped Cortes, in any way, to get on the ballot — except to say she has a right to run.

Lester Pearce admitted that he was with his niece, Sessions, while she gathered signatures for Cortes one Friday.

But he described his presence in Sessions’ car as passive, rejecting any insinuation that he was involved in helping Cortes get on the ballot isn’t truth.

“I needed a ride and I rode with her and she stopped a couple of times,” Lester Pearce said. “(It was) probably indiscretion on my part to have gotten in the car with her and then her saying, ‘Oh, I need to stop here’.”

But he vigorously defended his nieces’ right to collect signatures for any candidate. His family has been collecting signatures to aid Republicans for years, he said.

When categorically asked if he made any efforts to get Cortes on the ballot, Lester Pearce replied: “Did I, personally? No.”

“I don’t circulate petitions. I didn’t collect a single signature. I can’t do that. It’s a judicial ethics issue,” he said.

Judges and justices of the peace are heavily restricted when it comes to politics, even when it comes to their own elections.

For instance, the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for any public office, taking part in any campaign other than his own, and making speeches on behalf of a political organization or candidate.

The code says the rules against participating in political activities are to prevent the erosion of public confidence in the independence and impartiality of judges and “to prevent them from abusing the prestige of the judicial office to advance the interests of others.”

The code also directly addresses judges whose family members are running for office.

There is no family exception to the prohibition against endorsing a candidate for any public office.

“A judge or judicial candidate must not become involved in, or publicly associated with, a family member’s political activity or campaign for public office,” the code reads. “To avoid public misunderstanding, judges and judicial candidates should take and should urge members of their families to take reasonable steps to avoid any implication that the judge or judicial candidate endorses any family member’s candidacy or other political activity.”

Asked whether he would file a complaint with the judicial conduct committee, Ryan said he would likely do so in the near future.

“We’ll provide the information to the Commission on Judicial Conduct and he can defend it to them,” Ryan said. “Like Ricky said to Lucy, ‘he’s got some ’splaining to do.’”

- Arizona Capitol Times writers Jim Small and Gary Grado contributed to this report

5 comments

  1. I hope that this issue is investigated. I think it should be illegal to run this type of campaign and I think Miss Cortes should be called to the carpet for her actions in this whole fiasco. She seems mature enough to know what was being done instead of hiding behind this cloak of poor dumb me, and Russell Pearce, how does he get away with all this? If this was a normal citizen they would be arrested and prosecuted but he seems to get off again and again, be it accepting gifts inappropriately or trying to rig an election. Where is Lady Justice? Not in Arizona.

  2. Does anyone believe the Pearce camp wasn’t involved in the Cortes campaign?
    How did they get her to drop out of the race right before Tom Ryan placed them in an either-lie-on-the-witness-stand-or-confess-everything stranglehold?

    Who paid for Cortes’ signs? Who paid for Petition Pros to gather her signatures? Who built her website? Who put out those press releases that neither Olivia nor Western claimed to know anything about? Goodness there are lots of questions that were going to be asked of the Pearce team under oath. I wonder why they didn’t want to answer them so badly…

  3. Let’s make a big assumption. Let’s assume that Russell Pearce truly had his head in the ground and didn’t have a clue about the Cortes campaign. Okay, move forward to today. What is keeping Mr. Pearce from condemning, in the harshest terms, folks who sought to corrupt the campaign. Certainly, Mr. Pearce upholds the Arizona Constitution and wishes to assure the “purity of elections and guard against abuses of the elective franchise. Ariz. Const. Art. 7, Sec. 12. Now he knows. Now he can’t deny that his Tea Party friends were trying to abuse the process and sully the election. Where is Mr. “rule of law” now.

    What we see now are his true colors. He has no integrity and cannot be trusted to uphold the law.

  4. TRUE Vetted Facts about Lewis:

    1) Lewis committed fraud against Arizona by falsifying the number of students at Sequoia Schools, which he used to manage until the State forced him to resign. Lewis asked Joy Christian, doesn’t take public funds, to have their students log on to Sequoia to inflate the number of students.

    A 2009 Audit by AZ showed that Lewis defrauded taxpayers $1.9 million by Lewis falsely reporting an additional 400 Joy Christian students. Lewis was forced to resign and Sequoia had to pay back the $1.9 million to AZ. For more information, go to Sonoran News.

    2) Lewis then became the manager of Pappas School, for underprivileged youths. Lewis was caught “light fingered” taking from the Homeless Donations. The lawsuit by the teacher(s) is open and pending in MC Superior Court. Click on the link at Sonoran Alliance to print the court documents.

    3) Lewis at the debate equated AZ TODAY with the worst of the lynchings, KKK, and other civil rights travesties. Lewis “AZ is seen as something akin to 1964 Alabama”. (AZ Rep video or Trib)

    4) Lewis claims to be a Republican-no Democrat is running because Lewis is the “sham” Republican. The State GOP and Maricopa County GOP broker tradition of not endorsing a candidate when more than one is running because they KNOW that Lewis is a plant. Pearce has the support of the prominent Republican AZ state officers and legislators.

    5) Lewis refuses to criticize/denounce his puppet master, Randy Parraz. Parraz is a union organizer and promoter of class warfare paid $117K a year by the unions (unioncheck.com) to disrupt and attack conservatives. Add in Lewis’ La Raza (kill whites) and AZtlan (return AZ to Mexico) buddies-Snow, Parraz, Grijalva, Pastor, Reze- and you have a witches’ brew.

    6)As US Senator Trent Franks stated in his endorsement of State Senator President Pearce, please do not allow the “Looney Left” to take over Arizona, “flooding Million(s) into the state from outside unions , to pay for Open Border Activists to swarm Mesa’s neighborhoods.

  5. A witch’s brew? We have been living under a dictatorship since Pearce became Senate President. He is vindictive, threatens legislators who will not vote his way, does not support American born children and placed the State of Arizona in the same position as Alabama (that is a known fact). Alabama is suffering now because they followed Pearce’s lead! Just like Arizona. There is nothing wrong with supporting the middle class, workers and union members because they are voters too! Glad that Snow and Parraz helped us see the light! Your comments regarding La Raza or AZtlan are racist by themselves and no point in addressing them. There is no “looney right or left”….only voters who are fed up with being labeled. The voters will decide who took illegal gifts, attacked American children, who supports the middle class and who really follows “the rule of law and the rule of humankind”. Not Pearce!

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