Rep. Russ Jones, who lost a Republican primary on Aug. 28 to political newcomer Darin Mitchell has hired veteran elections attorney Tom Ryan to challenge Mitchell’s qualifications to be on the ballot.
Ryan was the lead attorney in challenging “sham candidate” Olivia Cortes in former Senate President Russell Pearce’s 2011 recall election.
Ryan said he’s going to fight “tooth and nail” to have Mitchell thrown off the ballot in Legislative District 13, which runs from Yuma to the western edges of Phoenix, and he expects to file a legal challenge early next week.
He said that unlike federal law, state law is very specific in the requirements for candidates to live in the district, and it doesn’t look like Mitchell meets those requirements.
“(The law) doesn’t require just intent (to live in the district),” he said. “It requires intent, plus physical presence, plus a length of time. So this is very serious stuff. You have to have actual presence (in the district). You can’t just show up one day and say ‘I was there and then I left.’”
Ryan likened Mitchell’s case to that of Augustus Shaw, a Republican who ran for the Legislature in 2010. Shaw had claimed he lived at his in-laws’ house in a Tempe legislative district, while his wife and kids remained in the family home in a neighboring district. His family testified in court that Shaw actually lived at the family home most of the time, and the judge removed him from the ballot.
If a legal challenge against Mitchell is successful, Ryan said the process to fill the seat is still a little unclear.
Ryan said he believes the decision of who to pick as a replacement would be left up to the district’s precinct committeemen from Yuma County – because it is the more populated county in the district. He was unsure whether the pick would then go on the ballot or just take the seat, but the district is heavily Republican and the primary winners face no Democratic challengers in the general election anyway.
Ryan said that he is going to look at many different factors when making his case, but he has to move quickly.
“You have to look at all sorts of things: Where is your vehicle registered? Where you pay utilities, where you register to vote, all those kinds of things. We’re going to be looking at all of that. It’s all going to go boom, boom, boom, because you have to get it out before the ballots go out.”