BISBEE — A former judicial candidate and Cochise County prosecutor indicted on a perjury charge was ordered to appear at an emergency contempt hearing Thursday after she failed to fully follow a judge’s orders to register with probation for pretrial services.
Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael Peterson sounded furious over the telephone Thursday at a contempt hearing in Cochise County Superior Court’s Division VII when he asked Sandra Russell’s defense lawyer why his client should not be incarcerated for failing to follow orders he issued almost two weeks ago.
Russell, who ran for judge in 2020, was indicted in early October by a state grand jury on one count of perjury after the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said she lied on a form that was required when she ran for election.
When she was arraigned on Oct. 25, Peterson ordered that Russell’s mugshot and fingerprints be taken by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and that she contact Cochise County adult probation for pretrial services that same afternoon.
At the time, Russell’s husband, Chris Russell, who represented her at that hearing — the Russells, Peterson and Arizona Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson appeared telephonically for that proceeding — told the judge that making contact with someone in probation was difficult because they didn’t answer the telephone.
The judge told the Russells to make a good faith effort with probation and to get it done within that week.
Thursday afternoon — 11 days after the order was issued — Peterson said Russell had “refused to participate in pretrial services.”
Court records show Russell appeared to Adult Probation on Oct. 27, but refused to sign the conditions of pretrial release.
The criminal attorney now representing Russell, Louis Fidel of Tucson, quietly told Peterson that “there was a misunderstanding of what the court had ordered.”
“What she understood was that what she had to do was only to call in (to probation),” Fidel said. “Not that she would be supervised.”
That angered Peterson even more. He told Fidel to “cut to the chase.”
“I find it highly unlikely that she didn’t understand,” Peterson said. “ ... If she will be this difficult to supervise, we’re going to have problems going forward.”
Fidel assured the judge his client would be complying with the court’s orders. The judge said that as part of her pretrial conditions, Russell would have to surrender any weapons she had in the house. When Fidel requested a modification of that and asked that Russell be released on her own recognizance, the judge immediately answered, “the request is denied.”
“It is with absolute clarity you will be supervised by pretrial services,” Peterson said to Russell.
At that point Russell, sitting in the courtroom with her husband, began asking the judge why he had reached that conclusion.
Peterson swiftly shut Russell down, telling her she was “out of order and out of line.”
“Mr. Fidel, I would keep your client in order,” Peterson said.
Russell, 48, was indicted by a state grand jury on Oct. 4 on one count of perjury. The charge is linked to her response on a qualification form that was required when she ran for Cochise County Superior Court Judge James Conlogue’s seat last November. Conlogue retired in December 2020.
One of her opponents, attorney Anne Carl, had filed a complaint against Russell regarding her qualification form, on which she claimed she had lived in Cochise County for seven years. Carl said Russell was still voting in Georgia while stating that she lived in Cochise County.
Russell claimed she had been a resident of Cochise County for seven years when she was running for judge in 2020. But according to the indictment filed Oct. 4, she also stated she was a resident of Georgia when she voted in an election there in 2016.
In her nomination/declaration of qualification document filed with the Cochise County Elections Department in April 2020, Russell stated she had lived in Cochise County and Arizona for seven years.
“I have resided in Cochise County for seven years and in Precinct 32 for seven years before my election,” Russell’s documents show.
Carl’s suit alleged Russell was voting in DeKalb County, Georgia, in 2014 and 2016. State law requires a judicial candidate to live in the county where he or she is seeking election for at least five years upon taking office.
Carl wanted Russell’s name stricken from the ballot, but at a hearing in September 2020, Conlogue ruled that Russell had fulfilled the five-year stipulation despite records showing her having voted in Georgia in 2016.
Nonetheless, the Georgia Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees the elections division there, launched an investigation into Russell, a spokesman there told the Herald/Review last year. A few weeks ago, spokesman Walter Jones said the case had been sent to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office “for prosecution.”
According to the indictment, “Sandra Finch Russell, aka Sandy Russell, knowingly signed a Declaration of Qualification for the office of Judge of the Superior Court under penalty of perjury where Sandra Finch Russell stated, ‘I will have been a citizen of Arizona for seven years before my election’ when in fact Sandra Finch Russell had previously completed an Oath of Election in connection with an election held in DeKalb County, Georgia on May 24, 2016, wherein she stated, ‘I do swear or affirm that I am a citizen of the state of Georgia.’ ”
Peterson was assigned to the case because it would have been a conflict of interest for a Cochise County Superior Court judge to hear the matter and for any Cochise County prosecutor to try it.
Lawson, of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, will be prosecuting Russell.
Another hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16 in front of Peterson in Division VII.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that Sandra Russell did report to probation, but did not register for pretrial services.