Petition circulators have to appear in court for subpoenas, Arizona Supreme Court rules

By Tomas Kassahun | Dec 4, 2018

The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona has affirmed the trial court’s decision, disqualifying the “Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment” from the November 2018 general election ballot.   pexels.com

PHOENIX (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona has affirmed a trial court’s decision, saying petition circulators for a disqualified amendment should appear in court when they are given a subpoena.

According to the ruling filed on Nov. 21, the circulators’ had to appear in court because their testimony was legally necessary to validate the signatures of the initiative to qualify the Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment for the November 2018 general election ballot. 

“We find no basis to disturb the trial court’s findings concerning the merits of petitioners’ asserted need for testimony to support their challenges to the subpoenaed circulators’ qualifications,” the opinion stated.

The Outlaw Dirty Money political committee also argued that the petitioners’ service was defective because they served 14 subpoenas on a guard stationed on the first floor of the multistory office building rather than at the circulators’ listed ninth-floor suite at the same address.

The Supreme Court didn’t agree. 

“The committee, through its contracted petition-circulation company, chose this location as the circulators’ statutory service address,” the opinion stated. “Petitioners effected service at this facility as they were permitted— with the guard on the first floor of the circulators’ building who signed the service of process form and avowed in writing that he was ‘authorized to receive and accept service of process’ for the building’s tenants.”

The Supreme Court also said it’s not persuaded by the committee's argument that the petitioners failed to provide service of the subpoenas within a reasonable time.

The case went to the trial court after the Outlaw Dirty Money political committee filed signature petitions with the secretary to qualify initiative C-03-2018, also known as the Stop Political Dirty Money Amendment, for the November 2018 ballot, the Supreme Court said.

“The initiative’s purpose is to amend the Arizona Constitution to ensure public knowledge of the original source of campaign contributions,” the opinion stated. “The committee was required to gather 225,963 valid signatures to qualify the Initiative for the ballot. The committee’s signature count exceeded the minimum required.”

According to the opinion, the Stanwitz petitioners filed a complaint on July 19, challenging the validity of certain petitions based on various objections to petition circulators, including that their registrations were defective, they were ineligible to circulate petitions and they were improperly paid based upon the number of signatures gathered.

On Aug., 23, the Maricopa County Superior Court voided the petition sheets containing 8,824 signatures produced by 15 circulators who failed to appear pursuant to petitioners’ subpoenas, the Supreme Court said.

“The trial court’s ruling rendered the initiative ineligible for the November 2018 ballot,” the opinion stated.

The Supreme Court said the committee and petitioners filed expedited appeals challenging the trial court’s decision to disqualify the non-appearing subpoenaed circulators’ petition signatures. 

The Supreme Court said the committee argued against 19-118(C), which invalidates any petition signatures obtained by a registered circulator properly served with a subpoena who fails to appear for trial.

“The committee contends that the statute impedes the initiative process because it improperly disqualifies otherwise valid signatures merely because a circulator fails to appear when subpoenaed to testify as to a petition challenge,” the opinion stated.

The Supreme Court said it agrees with the Superior Court, saying the statute “'represents a reasonable means of fostering transparency, facilitating the judicial fact finding process, inducing compliance with valid compulsory process and mitigating the threat of fraud or other wrongdoing infecting the petition process.'”

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