Likening Mark Syms to an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand, a judge ruled that the failed Arizona state Senate candidate must pay attorneys fees to the man who bumped him from the ballot.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury’s order means that Syms, who sought to run as an independent in Legislative District 28, owes more than $50,000 to cover the legal expenses of Robert McGee, who successfully challenged the validity of the signatures Syms’ filed to qualify for the ballot.
Attorneys for McGee — the husband of Republican Kate Brophy McGee, the district’s incumbent senator — had argued that Syms fought court rulings barring him from the ballot despite evidence that his ability to qualify was never a “close call.”
Close to 80 percent of the signatures Syms submitted were deemed invalid, leaving him with a mere 493 valid signatures and far short of the 1,250 he needed to qualify.
“Defendant Syms ignored and consciously disregarded the likelihood that he had submitted a significant number of invalid signatures, and plaintiff incurred attorneys’ fees, costs and expenses as a result,” Coury wrote.
Syms’ attorney, Mark Goldman, filed a notice of appeal against the ruling, and said he expects the decision to be overturned. Goldman noted that the Arizona Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s decision barring Syms from the ballot, also denied McGee attorneys fees in an August 8 ruling.
In a previous ruling, Coury noted that Syms was not actively involved in any fraud scheme or that he was not aware of the bad signatures before he turned them in.
But that didn’t absolve Syms from ignoring the obvious, Coury wrote.
Given the facts, “no rationale candidate in defendant Syms’ position could reasonably expect that he or she had submitted a sufficient number of signatures,” the judge wrote.
Coury described Syms as “playing ‘ostrich’” when faced with media reports of possible forgery, and noted the fact that even Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s mother had her signature forged on Syms’ petitions.
Syms’ defense relied on criticism of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Jeremy Phillips, one of Syms’ attorneys, painted the process by which the recorders verify signatures as vague and undefined.
Coury wrote that such a defense was “implausible and unreasonable.”
“No evidence was presented that suggested any further review or validation process would have made a material difference,”the judge wrote. “Defendant Syms knew this, or had good reason to know this.”
Through his attorney, Syms declined to comment.
In a separate ruling, Coury also referred Goldman to be scrutinized by the State Bar of Arizona for unprofessional conduct, citing an email Goldman sent to attorneys for McGee. The State Bar is responsible for investigating whether a violation of the rules of professional conduct for attorneys occurred, though that determination would ultimately be up to the Arizona Supreme Court’s disciplinary panel.
“I have a great respect for the ethical rules applicable to attorneys and diligently follow them as evidenced by the fact that in thirty years of being a lawyer, I have never had a bar complaint, let alone been found to have violated an ethical rule, and thus my impeccable thirty year record speaks for itself,” Goldman wrote in an email.e