SIERRA VISTA — A judicial candidate’s quest earlier this month in Cochise County Superior Court to have her opponent removed from the November ballot has been called “untimely” by the Arizona Supreme Court, and her appeal with the higher tribunal in the case has been denied.
Four Arizona Supreme Court justices also ruled that a Cochise County Superior Court judge “erred” when he denied a motion by the respondent in the case to have the issue dismissed because of the timeliness factor, the order issued Friday morning shows.
“Challenger Anne Carl’s September 3, 2020 Complaint for Special Action/Injunctive Relief seeking to remove Candidate Sandy Russell from the ballot was untimely,” the order signed by Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer says. “The trial court therefore erred in denying the Candidate’s (Russell’s) Motion to Dismiss.”
Carl, who is running for Cochise County superior court judge against Russell and candidate Jason Lindstrom, filed a civil suit against Russell earlier this month claiming that Russell should be disqualified from running for judge because she had not lived in Cochise County long enough.
State law requires that a superior court judge candidate live in their county five years on the date they take office. That means Russell should have lived in Cochise County from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2021.
As proof, Carl offered Russell’s Georgia voting records, which show that Russell had voted in that state as late as May 2016. Carl contended that Russell was still a resident of Georgia and was voting there, while claiming that she lived in Arizona. Carl was asking for an injunction that would have prevented Russell’s name from appearing on the ballot.
The day Carl’s complaint was heard in court — Sept. 9 — the ballots were being proofed at the printer, county officials said.
Carl said Friday that the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision does not mean Russell is eligible for office.
“This decision in no way vindicates Ms. Russell’s eligibility for office,” Carl said in an email Friday afternoon. “The Court never got that far.”
“It is a matter of public record that she is either ineligible for office or committed voter fraud in Georgia in 2014 and in 2016,” Carl added. “That would make her a felon. In either case, she could be removed from office if elected.”
“My appeal was clear: I don’t think she voted illegally in GA.,” Carl added. “She committed fraud here this year, by declaring herself, under penalty of perjury, a citizen and resident of AZ for seven years.”
At the Sept. 9 hearing though, Cochise County Superior Judge James Conlogue ruled that Russell had proved she was a resident of Cochise County since before Jan. 4, 2016. The judge’s decision was based on evidence Russell presented that showed she had been a resident since 2013. Russell is now trying to have the documents sealed so that the public won’t have access to it, court records show.
Conlogue’s ruling that Russell proved residency, as well as information contained in her binder of evidence, have sparked an investigation by the Georgia Secretary of State to determine whether Russell voted illegally there in 2016. A Georgia Secretary of State official recently told the Herald/Review that “intent” is a key issue for an investigation concerning voting and residency.
In her response to the Arizona Supreme Court, Russell spells out that her intent was to remain in Arizona after she moved here from Georgia in the latter part of 2013.
The decision in Cochise County Superior Court meanwhile, prompted Carl’s appeal in the Arizona Supreme Court.
The four Supreme Court Justices however, agreed with responses filed by both Russell and Cochise County elections officials — who also were named in Carl’s civil suit — that Carl’s challenge against Russell was five months too late.
At the hearing on Sept. 9, Russell’s attorney Thomas Denker made a motion that the case be dismissed by Conlogue because Carl had voiced her opposition to Russell’s candidacy past the deadline stipulated by county elections officials.
“Pursuant to A.R.S. 16-351(A) and (B), any elector may challenge a candidate’s nomination not later than ten days after the last day for filing nomination papers and petitions. In this case, the challenges to the April 6, 2020 nomination documents needed to be filed no later than April 20, 2020,” the Supreme Court’s order shows.
The higher court is also ordering Conlogue to reverse his decision denying the motion to dismiss the case.
“Therefore, IT IS ORDERED vacating the decision of the trial court, reversing the trial court order denying Candidate’s Motion to Dismiss, and remanding to the trial court with instructions to enter an order granting the Motion to Dismiss,” the justices’ order states.
But Carl said Russell is vulnerable regardless.
“She didn’t win anything here,” Carl said. “What’s plain is just how vulnerable she is. Anyone will be able to bring a compelling and timely contest of her qualifications if she is elected.”
Russell did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.