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Home / Opinion / Commentary / Why the lawsuit against Olivia Cortes had to be aggressively defended

Why the lawsuit against Olivia Cortes had to be aggressively defended

It’s not because the lawsuit was politically motivated. Everyone knows how unapologetically brutal politics can be. And it’s not because the lawsuit was brought to defame Ms. Cortes, either. Placing your name on a ballot is the functional equivalent of sending the world an open invitation to attack your character.

The reason the lawsuit against Olivia Cortes had to be aggressively defended, rather, is that it asked a judge, without statutory authorization, to inquire into the political beliefs, motivations, associations, and activities of ordinary citizens — and then to find legal liability where no law says there is: in the details of those ideologies, agendas, friends, and practices.

Tom Ryan, the plaintiff’s attorney, built the bulk of his case against Cortes around one concept: the political motivations of Ms. Cortes’ nomination petition circulators. After forcing Ms. Cortes’ petition circulators to appear in court by subpoena, Mr. Ryan asked them all, under oath:

• Whether they were Tea Party members and why;
• Whether they support Russell Pearce’s political agenda and why;
• Whether they will vote for Russell Pearce in the upcoming recall election and why;
• What they believe about the Constitution and why;
• How they could justify circulating petitions for Olivia Cortes — a woman few of them, if any, had ever met.

After establishing just how far, exactly, to the political Right these people can be found on the spectrum, Ryan executed what was probably the most constitutionally repugnant part of his litigation strategy — he required each of them to list every single political ally by name; that is, to identify each person they associate with politically. Then he asked them to describe the political beliefs and goals of their friends, one by one — are they conservative activists? Tea Party members? And so on.

When Mr. Ryan asked Cortes petition circulator Suzanne Dreher whether she understood that what she did could amount to a Class 5 felony under his theory of the law, Dreher broke down in tears. What “crime” did Ms. Dreher commit, you ask? As she circulated Cortes petitions, she told registered voters that if Olivia Cortes appeared on the ballot, Russell Pearce would have a better chance of being re-elected.

At its bloody roots, the First Amendment means one thing — and one thing only: The government has no right to pass judgment on the associations of its citizens — political, religious, ideological, or otherwise. Yet Mr. Ryan asked a Judge to invent a law whereby such associations can give rise to legal and criminal liability.

The Constitution was enacted to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” It was not enacted to ensure the motivational purity of candidates who jump through legal hoops to have their names placed on election ballots — however desirable to democracy such motivational purity might be, and undoubtedly is.

In James Madison’s “well-constructed Union,” whether a person is a “sham” candidate is not a question for the courts to decide. We have a free press — the media can inquire into the political associations of our candidates. The voters can then issue judgments on those associations at the ballot box, by voting for and against their candidates of choice.

The political motivations of petition circulators form no part of our current law. The Legislature has prescribed the legal prerequisites to qualify for candidacy, such as age and residency requirements. Straightforwardly, it’s none of any court’s business what the political motivations of a candidate’s petition circulators are.

In the last analysis, it makes no difference whether you are Right or Left, partisan or independent, or altogether apolitical. Had Mr. Ryan been allowed to proceed with the lawsuit against Cortes, the consequences would be disastrous to the public good. All of a sudden, any political activist’s motives could be put on trial in courts of law.

These lawsuits would mean that the government would regularly have to evaluate the political associations and beliefs of its citizens in court. The legal costs of political activism would rise to intolerably high levels. All people would have real legal reasons to fear who they associated with because they might be asked to justify those associations on the stand.

In a word, it would be the beginning of the end of democracy in Arizona. So let’s hope no one ever brings a lawsuit like this again. Our free press is well-equipped to expose sham candidacies, and the people can judge politicians’ motivational purity for themselves.

Anthony Tsontakis, a Phoenix-based election law attorney, defended Ms. Cortes’ right to appear on the ballot in court. Mr. Tsontakis is also Associate Faculty at the University of Phoenix, where he teaches History of the U.S. Constitution. Follow him on Twitter @TsontakisLaw.


  1. Oh Puleeze. This is the most ridiculous load of pseudo legal gobbledygook I’ve read in a very long time. If you’re planning on getting a law degree at the University of Phoenix, you might want to look elsewhere.

  2. Dear Mr. Tsontakis.

    How the case was constructed, what the petitioner wanted to have decided and how either the defendant’s so-called ‘campaign’ or the petitioners suit are at odds with Arizona law or the United States Constitution is meaningless.

    What does hold meaning is that the ‘candidate’ Cortes was forced to publicly showcase her ignorance about even the most basic facts of her ‘campaign’ and her inability to voice even the simplest of opinions on any issues concerning this election, that helpers were forced to publicly acknowledge that Mrs. Cortes ‘candidacy’ was a Tea Party construct designed to aid Mr. Pearce and that a judge acknowledged the ploy in an opinion, which has now become part of the historical record in Arizona.

    I do agree with Judge Burke that the remedy for such things is at the ballot box, and thanks to the hearing in his chambers and his decision the voter’s choice has become much clearer.


  3. I agree with the ruling. But, you have sympathy for Suzanne Dreher’s tears? Interesting, I thought she deserved to be intimidated for being complicit in the charade. Just like Greg Western deserved to be derided for his blatant dishonesty.

    Have a fun and proud look at yourself in the mirror tonight Mr. Tsontakis. You’ve just successfully defended a fraud on the electorate!

  4. The same thing happened last year when the GOP recruited homeless people and called them Green Party candidates. One of these sham candidates listed his home as Rep. Jim Weiers’ daughter. So, the outcome of this case is no surprise. It just brought more media attention to the topic.

  5. Well done Mr. Tsontakis!

    It is remarkable to see our legal system crumbling before our eyes. That such a lawsuit could even be brought before a judge is evidence of how bad things have gotten. How little the Constitution means to political activists of the left.

    Thank you for defending our rights as American and Arizona citizens, and keep up the excellent work!

    Rick Gutridge

  6. Mr. Gutridge:
    Anybody can file any lawsuit anywhere they want….HAVE LAWYER WILL TRAVEL (I agree it is at times unfortunate, but not in this case!! Tsontakis is just using his letter to say “I am for hire for anyone, anytime”(free advertising).
    Ms Cortes could have defended herself if she wanted, but could not have found her way out from under a layer of tissue paper, if her life depended on it.

    Rick Gutridge Says:
    October 3rd, 2011 at 7:56 pm
    Well done Mr. Tsontakis!

    It is remarkable to see our legal system crumbling before our eyes. That such a lawsuit could even be brought before a judge is evidence of how bad things have gotten.

  7. The media leaves the impression that this type of gamesmanship is unusual;however, the Dems use this tactic twice last year and the old time media ignores it.

    1) Republican Schweikert successfully ran against incumbent Dem Mitchell in CD5 last year. The Dems sent out brochures in support of another party Libertarian candidate (believe Nick Coons)to take votes away from Schweikert from his conservative/libertarian base. The media was silent because they support playing dirty tricks to help a candidate they love-Mitchell.

    2) When Republican Kelly almost bet Dem Giffords (lost by 4000 votes) it was due to 11,174 votes going to the Libertarian candidate, Steven Stoltz, Who paid for and distributed the direct mail for Stolz? You guessed it-the AZ Democratic party. The Dems put on Stoltz’ brochures that Stoltz was “The Real Conservative”knowing that war hero Jesse Kelly was the conservative/tea party favorite? Hum! Where was the old media then?

    And the Stoltz hit piece by the Dems didn’t even have the required “paid by” on the brochures until Bivens admitted to it. Where was the Az Rep’s indignation? What wasn’t Don Bivens asked to resign as Dem State party Chair (believe he has now since Cheney in office)? (Mesa took down Olivia’s signs because they didn’t say “paid for”. ( Mesa’s employees are unionized?).

    In the Cortes case, the media are in full frenzy. This poor Hispanic patriot is called “ignorant”. “sham” (check out Lewis’ puppet master-Randy Parraz for the definition of Sham), and the ultimate bigotry from Roberts that Cortes does not know how to say “incumbent”. Now the AZ Rep/Roberts is calling Cortes stupid because a group they despise (conservatives) engaged in a trick to support a candidate the AZ Rep hates.The out of date media is silent on the dirty tricks of their left wing brethern. For supporting documents on above, go to Expresso Pundit.

  8. “It is remarkable to see our legal system crumbling before our eyes. That such a lawsuit could even be brought before a judge is evidence of how bad things have gotten.”

    -Rick Gutridge, one of the more paranoid ignoramuses on planet earth.

  9. Dear “WeThePeople2012” (*yawn*).

    There are very important and equally obvious differences between Olivia Cortes on one side and Mr. Coons and Mr. Stoltz on the other: Mrs. Cortes has no platform, no staff, no (official) funding, has no official staff (beyond Mr. Western), nor is she accepting volunteers, and she stutters her way through even the simplest of questions about what she stands for. Mr. Coons and Mr. Stoltz were actual candidates, having actual staff and volunteers running actual campaigns, using actual and officially accounted for funding from donations.

    Additionally, the AZDEMs did acknowledge their authorship and funding of the direct mail pieces you referred to openly as required by law. The East Valley Tea Party, The AZ Republican Party and the Pearce Family are still lying about their involvement in the Cortes Sham Candidacy.

    Here are the direct mail pieces with the legally required disclaimers:

    *******/NICKCOONSpicresized_1289580508_coonas6a00d83451db8169e20133f574a52e970b.jpg" rel="nofollow ugc">*******/NICKCOONSpicresized_1289580508_coonas6a00d83451db8169e20133f574a52e970b.jpg


  10. Lewis’ brutal tactics against Cortes and the tea party members shows the lack of character of this man.

    Lewis falsifies 400 students to rip off taxpayers $1.9 million. Lewis is fired from his first school and Joy Christian has to pay back the state! AZ Rep article 7/19// Joy Christian.

    Then guy pal Maricopa Supervisor Don Stapley gets Lewis a job at Sequoia where Lewis is being sued by teachers for stealing from the Homeless Donations.

    STapley was looking over Lewis side when Lewis filed his candidancy. The same Stapley that was investigated for 118 counts over land, business fraud. The same Stapley arrested 2009 for campaign fundraising fraud. The same Stapley under investigation from AZ Dept Real Estate for land fraud.

    The Move.On.orgers and Progressive democrats of America chose a winner in the Lewis and Stapley campaign. May the Mesa voters study wisely.

    After 40-50 years of public service as cop, sheriff, judge, and now State Senate president, the only things the uber left can talk about is Pearce’s Fiesta Bowl tickets. ALL legislators have to receive tickets if offerd to one. Both Dems and GOP received tickets. Why not talk about Arrendondo being investigated.

  11. To “wethepeople2012”:
    Lewis “brutal attack” on Cortes= never attacked her. Not once.
    Not at all. Never.
    Nor did his campaign.
    You do like to sling it, don’t you.
    You remind me of the “night creatures” of Will Smith’s movie “I am Legend”.
    Roaring, running, insane, insatiable, passionate without reason, and when the sun shines in District 18 (on November 9) my hope is that you will withdraw to your caves and eat each other.

  12. Lol. Thanks for the laugh.

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