Only one of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors appeared in court today for the lawsuit filed against them by Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, which called the board’s agreement with its county recorder to oversee its elections department illegal.
Santa Cruz County Judge Thomas Fink ruled based on statute and convenience, the venue of the proceedings will be moved to Pima County.
The change comes on a tight deadline, as Arizona Solicitor General Joshua Bendor said that the Attorney General plans to file a preliminary injunction and hopes to have that ruled upon prior to the May 16 special election in Cochise County, which seeks voter approval of adding a half-cent excise tax to fund a new Cochise County Jail.
Democratic Supervisor Ann English was the only member of the board to appear in court, as her colleagues Republican Supervisors Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd and Cochise County Recorder David Stevens did not attend the hearing Wednesday.
Bendor initially submitted the motion to move the venue of the proceedings from Cochise County to Maricopa County.
Bendor argued that state statute mandates that the proceedings occur in a place that is most convenient. He noted that both counsel for the plaintiffs and the defendants are based out of Maricopa County.
Bendor also said that this case likely won’t have a jury trial nor witnesses as it centers on a legal issue.
The attorney for the supervisors, Timothy La Sota, argued that the venue should be either Santa Cruz or Pima County, as he said he believes travel should be minimized.
La Sota said that he believes the case should be heard in Santa Cruz county. Bendor disagreed, noting that the lawsuit points to more than a local issue, but a state issue.
“It’s more than local importance,” said Bendor during the hearing on Wednesday. “It’s the integrity of elections.”
La Sota countered Bendor and highlighted the local significance of the case, referencing the presence of half a dozen local members of the public in the courtroom and members of the press.
La Sota is a lawyer based in Phoenix who specializes in land use, election law, lobbying and licensing.
Now all eyes will await for the next court appearance in Pima County, which is yet to be determined. Both attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendants agreed to submit a briefing schedule to the court by this Friday, March 31. Judge Fink said that a hearing will be set in Pima County once he receives the briefing schedule.
On February 28, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with the county recorder. Crosby and Judd voted in favor while English voted against it.
That triggered a lawsuit from Arizona Attorney General Mayes, which was filed on March 7, stating that the agreement the board made with its Republican County Recorder David Stevens “purports to give to the Cochise County Recorder almost all of the elections powers and duties conferred by statute upon the Cochise County Board of Supervisors.”
According to the filing, the Attorney General alleged that through the agreement, the county recorder unlawfully increased his power and the board also illegally handed over its statutory duties over elections to the recorder.
If the agreement is allowed to stand, it places the authority of appointing an elections director under the county recorder; the agreement also states that any appointment is subject to approval by the board.
Cochise County Administrator Richard Karwaczka said in a special meeting on Valentine’s day that prior to the agreement’s drafting and approval, administrative and managerial functions of elections were delegated to the county administrator by the board of supervisors.
Pending legal action, this agreement moves administrative authority over the elections department away from the county administrator, a nonpartisan county official who is appointed by the board of supervisors.