Rep. Catherine Miranda, her husband and step-daughter invoked their Fifth Amendment rights on the witness stand today in a court hearing to determine whether the Phoenix Democrat should be removed from office for submitting allegedly forged signatures on election forms.
Miranda’s attorney, Tom Ryan, said he can’t allow his client or her family to testify while she is under criminal investigation.
“We’d love to tell the whole story. I want my client to tell the whole story,” Ryan told Judge Randall Warner in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Terry Rapp, Legislative District 27 Republican chairman, is suing Miranda to invalidate her primary election results and make her ineligible for the general election. Miranda finished second Aug. 28 in a three-way primary for two House seats and is being challenged by Republican Daniel Coleman in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Rapp’s lawsuit is based on the findings of a handwriting analyst hired by the Secretary of State who found that signatures on two forms were not Miranda’s. The findings have been turned over to the Attorney General’s Criminal Division for further investigation, and the division’s chief, Andrew Pacheco, attended the first half of the proceedings.
Rapp’s lawyer, Michael Liburdi, argued that the law is clear that the candidate is required to sign the forms and have them notarized or else be removed from the ballot.
“The rules are there, the evidence is there, the documents are not signed by Rep. Miranda as they should have been,” Liburdi said. “She is not qualified to serve.”
Ryan, who also represents Rep. Russ Jones in a challenge to invalidate the primary victory of Legislative District 13 Republican Darin Mitchell, said Rapp’s challenge is untimely and doesn’t meet the criteria for an election challenge.
Ryan said that even if the signature isn’t hers, she can adopt it as hers and there is no evidence she was trying to deceive or defraud anyone.
Ryan said that even if Rapp were correct, the worst sanction the court could impose on Miranda is a fine.
Warner ordered both attorneys to file briefs by Friday and he would rule by Tuesday.
Kathleen Nicolaides, the handwriting expert, repeated the findings in her written report on the stand.
“I determined the questionable Catherine Miranda signatures were not written by Catherine Miranda,” Nicolaides said.
Nancy Reed, a Secretary of State employee who oversees the processing of election forms and campaign reports submitted by candidates, said the suspicious Miranda signatures came to her attention while she was putting together a packet of questionable Clean Elections contributor signatures to turn over to the Attorney General for a separate investigation.
Miranda was denied Clean Elections funding because too many of the contributor signatures were invalidated and Nicolaides found that several of them were forgeries.
Nicolaides tried to determine whether Miranda’s husband, former Rep. Ben Miranda, signed his wife’s name on the documents, but she couldn’t prove he did or exclude him.
The forms were also notarized by Maritza Saenz, Ben Miranda’s daughter who works in his law office. Notaries aren’t allowed to vouch for documents belonging to relatives by marriage.
When Catherine Miranda took the stand, she sat silent as Liburdi questioned her and Ryan repeatedly said she wouldn’t answer.
Ben Miranda’s testimony was the same and Saenz had her own lawyer who invoked her rights for her.