COCHISE COUNTY — On top of the rigors of campaigning, the three candidates vying to become the next Cochise County Superior Court judge in Division 5 are having to deal with attacks they’re making against one another and fielding questions about their past conduct.
The judicial race, which one of the candidates said has normally been uneventful, has turned into all-out war. And the battlefield has been both social media and the courtroom.
The Herald/Review looked over judicial candidate Jason Lindstrom’s and Sandy Russell’s personnel files from the Cochise County Attorney’s Office. Lindstrom is an assistant prosecutor and Russell worked there as a juvenile prosecutor for just over a year until she was fired.
Judicial candidate Anne Carl also served as an assistant prosecutor with the county for seven years until she was fired in 2010. Carl’s personnel file has been purged because she has not been employed with Cochise County for a decade, county human resources officials said.
All three candidates have criticized each other extensively and challenged each other both on social media and in court. Russell took Lindstrom to court over a challenge to the signatures on his petition; Carl took Russell to court claiming she wasn’t an eligible candidate because of residency issues. All three have used Facebook to verbally snipe at each other.
Lindstrom’s social media faux pasMuch to his dismay, Lindstrom learned during the campaign that social media — especially when one is running for public office — may not be the place to start heated debates.
Public outrage has mounted after a Facebook post written last summer by Lindstrom resurfaced. The post in part addresses recipients of Social Security and welfare and whether they should be eligible to vote.
The backlash prompted Lindstrom to shut down his personal Facebook page and create a short video on his campaign Facebook page explaining why he must be cautious on social media.
He was regretful about the post.
“When this happened on social media, I actually tried to address it,” Lindstrom told the Herald/Review last week. “I learned a lot. What I learned was people are not interested in truth or justice. I tried to address it, but the more I said the more I was chewed up...”
“That was the moment that it became crystal clear that everything I do and everything I say, from this point forward, is a public record,” Lindstrom added.
The post, dated July 20, 2019, starts out with a warning: “Okay, I’m ready to piss off a quarter of the population here...feel free to argue the other side.”
The post continues with, “The moment you accept any type of welfare of (sic) Social Security you have to give up your right to vote. If you can’t take care of yourself, quit trying to tell those that are caring for themselves and others, how to do it. This takes care of our biggest problem which is large populations of immature, snot-nosed kids and old people (that are still living in ‘their time’) telling everyone what to do and how to allocate the national resources...it’s absurd.”
Lindstrom said the post is a “snapshot in time” that was taken out of context. He said he believes one of his opponents dug it out and began distributing it. Lindstrom said a few people received the post in a text message and in turn sent it to him to let him know what was going on.
“I have used my personal Facebook page as a tool for my own entertainment. I would engage with my family and my friends,” he said. “I like to trigger emotional conversations. It’s entertaining to me because I like to explore different ideas.
“And I say things sometimes that were not probably the most well articulated things, but my audience wasn’t the public at large. Even though that was probably a mistake I made.
“I was engaging my family and friends in a certain context at a certain time,” Lindstrom said. “But now what’s happened is someone that I think I know has pulled a snapshot from the past out of context and out of time, and it’s not something I’m proud of and it’s not something that represents my beliefs.”
Russell’s issuesJudicial candidate Sandy Russell is currently under investigation by the Georgia Secretary of State regarding her voting there while she was already a resident here. Russell’s Georgia voting records show she voted in the primary election in May 2016.
An official with the Georgia Secretary of State confirmed late last month that an investigation has been opened to determine if Russell voted illegally in that state.
At a recent civil hearing in Cochise County Superior Court where Russell’s residency in Arizona was challenged by Carl, a judge ruled that Russell had lived in Cochise County since before January 2016.
In 2019, Russell was reprimanded by the State Disciplinary Board of the State Bar of Georgia for her actions in two cases she handled when she practiced there. Because of the Georgia matter, Russell also received a reciprocal discipline of admonition from the presiding disciplinary judge of the State Bar of Arizona in 2019.
“In the Iqbal matter, the State Disciplinary Board found that your conduct violated Rules 1.8 (j) and 8.4(a)(4). Rule 1.80 (1) allows an attorney to acquire a lien granted by law if exercising the lien is not prejudicial to the client in regards to the subject of the litigation. You violated this rule when you filed a lien on Mrs. Iqbal’s property and thus acquired a proprietary interest. The lien was prejudicial to Mrs. Iqbal since it delayed the closing of the property and put her at risk for being pursued for damages by the new owners. Rule 8.4(a)(4) prohibits a lawyer from engaging in professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. You violated this rule when you chose not to disclose your lien to the opposing party and the court during the interlocutory hearing.”
“In the Gould matter, the State Disciplinary Board found that your conduct violated Rule 3.5(d). This rule prohibits a lawyer from engaging in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal. You violated this rule when you disregarded and failed to respond to the court’s orders, provided insufficient and evasive explanations, expended court resources by requiring the issuance of multiple orders and hearings to address your failure to abide by court rules and orders, and delayed resolution of evidentiary issues in the civil action in which you acted as counsel.”
Like her opponents, Russell was an assistant prosecutor with the Cochise County Attorney’s Office. Memos and emails in her personnel file point to clashes and conflicts with other employees, an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper, a Sierra Vista policeman and a juvenile probation official.
Russell also drew criticism and a complaint from the mother of one of the juveniles whose case Russell was assigned to. She had become a prosecutor in the juvenile division in March 2019 after starting with the Douglas Justice Court in August 2018. Russell was fired in January of this year.
In another juvenile case, Deputy Cochise County Attorney Lori Zucco, in a memo to Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, said Russell “trumped up a witness-tampering charge where there does not appear to be probable cause.” At the end of that memo, Zucco also said, “Sandy’s conduct in this case is clearly unethical and an egregious violation of prosecutorial standards. I believe we should investigate further and discuss a bar complaint. It is embarrassing that one of our deputies vigorously prosecuted a case under these circumstances.”
There is also an email in Russell’s personnel file dated March 11, 2019, from Sgt. Paul Maine of the Arizona Department of Public Safety to McIntyre, regarding an interaction Russell had with one of his troopers and what that trooper claimed occurred.
“The trooper described the meeting and his impression of the prosecutor as being ‘Radical left, anti-cop, anti-government and bitter,’” Maine said in his email. “He further explained how she (Russell) went on tirades about how cops and affluent white politicians get away with crimes and yet we are charging these ‘poor minorities’ with crimes. She stated to the trooper, ‘cops in this county suck, their cases and evidence suck.’
“I have serious issues of what she said to the trooper and what appears to be her anti-law enforcement bias,” Maine continued in the email. “My concern as a law enforcement officer is if her suspected bias is effecting her decisions as a Cochise County prosecutor.”
Russell told the Herald/Review that she was fired without cause. She also said she filed a whistleblower complaint against the County Attorney’s Office prior to her dismissal. She said she was not aware of any complaints against her except for the one filed by the mother of the juvenile whose case she dealt with.
There are six memos and emails in Russell’s file that were placed there after she was fired. McIntyre said he could not comment on Russell’s personnel file.
In a text message to the Herald/Review, Russell said the issues written about her and placed in her personnel file after she left the County Attorney’s Office are a ploy to discredit her candidacy.
“It appears obvious by the dates of any additional documents communicating a complaint after my period of employment that this is part of a political agenda to attack my character, diminish my credibility as a candidate, and retaliation for speaking out against my former employer,” Russell said.
Carl’s firingJudicial candidate Carl was fired from the County Attorney’s Office as well, but under different circumstances.
Carl also has taken to Facebook to explain her situation when she worked for the Cochise County Attorney’s Office.
On her campaign Facebook page Carl explained that when she worked as an assistant county attorney, she handled both civil and criminal cases. The civil division sometimes takes on clients similar to what a private attorney would do, and the client is considered a client of the state, Carl said.
In 2009, one of the school districts in Cochise County was investigating its highest paid employee for wrongdoing, Carl said. A Tucson TV station took interest in the investigation and “lined up behind the employee” (under investigation), and began airing stories about the investigation, Carl said. She said the segments were done by the station’s news director.
“His featured segments on TV and online unfairly vilified the client and me,” Carl said on her Facebook page. “They were high drama, but chock-full of what the employee, his supporters and/or the news director himself conjured out of thin air. They were easily proven false, yet they continued.”
Carl said the continued coverage of the school district employee “laid the groundwork” for the school district employee to sue both Carl, the school district and the school district’s volunteer board.
“The innocent client, its board members, and their families and businesses meanwhile, could not adequately defend themselves,” Carl said. “My office was frankly overwhelmed by other work, and took the position that this would all just ‘blow-over.’”
Carl said the TV station produced several more broadcasts on the matter that were defamatory and she began considering what she could do to help the school district and herself.
“My office frowned on this,” Carl said. “No one ever wants to sue or ‘go to war’ with a news station. No county attorney wants a deputy (county attorney) to (do that), even privately.”
Carl was asked by her superiors not to sue the TV station, but she said she could not agree to that. Her boss told her to think it over for a few months, or resign.
“Ultimately, I rejected both choices, and thereby encouraged my reluctant employer — with whom I enjoy to this day a positive professional relationship — to fire me,” Carl said.
“No one can serve two masters. Even with everyone’s best effort and intention, conflicting loyalties, such as mine in that case, are no-win situations,” she added. “I had a boss to obey and a client/victim and myself to protect from continued harm. Serving both interests was not possible, but it all worked out in the end.”
“When I did sue the TV station, I successfully stopped all of the defamation, and got all of the past defamation removed from the internet,” Carl added. “Meanwhile and not inconsequentially, the original (disgruntled employee’s) lawsuit against me and the client got dismissed, with attorney fees awarded to our side.”
Carl told the Herald/Review that she withdrew her lawsuit against the TV station after it removed information from its website related to the situation.
“I don’t want anyone to think I won anything,” Carl said.
Additionally, Carl filed a civil complaint against Russell earlier this year claiming Russell was not eligible to run for office because she had not lived in Cochise County long enough.
But at a hearing before Cochise County Superior Court Judge James Conlogue on Sept. 9, the judge ruled that Russell had presented evidence that showed she had lived here since before January 2016.
Carl appealed Conlogue’s ruling in the Arizona Supreme Court, but lost there, as well, after justices ruled that Carl’s challenge was untimely.
Carl also has filed a complaint against both Lindstrom and Russell with the Cochise County Elections Division regarding her opponents’ campaign signs and campaign finance reports.
Early voting begins Wednesday and Election Day is Nov. 3. The new judge will replace Conlogue, who is retiring at the end of the year.