Originally Published: June 25, 2018 12:18 a.m.
PHOENIX — A political foe of Don Shooter is making a last-ditch effort to keep the ousted former state representative from even trying to make a political comeback.
And Brent Backus, who wants to be the next state senator from the district, is using the fact that Shooter’s wife lives in Phoenix in his bid to narrow the Republican field.
In papers filed with the Arizona Supreme Court by attorney Tim La Sota, who represents Backus, said there was nothing wrong with the factual findings of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz about what evidence did and did not support Shooter’s claim that he lived in Yuma.
But La Sota said the trial judge reached all the wrong conclusions about what that evidence means. So now he wants the justices to reverse her findings, and rule that Shooter is not legally qualified to run for the state Senate from Legislative District 13.
For his part, Tim Nelson, Shooter’s attorney, told the justices they should affirm Mroz’s conclusion that Shooter is a Yuma resident, and has been a resident of the legislative district for at least a year.
He said, however, even if Shooter did not reside in the district for part of that time — a point he is not conceding — it does not matter.
He contends Shooter can run in LD 13 because the place Backus said he was living is in Maricopa County. And Nelson said the Arizona Constitution requires only that candidates live in the country they seek to represent.
And, in fact, LD 13 does stretch all the way from Yuma into western Maricopa County. Nelson said the fact that the Phoenix address where Shooter is alleged to have lived is elsewhere in the county — and not in LD 13 — is legally irrelevant.
All that, in turn, goes to the question of Shooter’s wife, Susan.
La Sota cites a state law which says that “the place where a person’s family resides is his residence.’’ The only exceptions, the attorney said, is when someone is separated from family or if the family residence is temporary.
There is no question, but that she resides in a Phoenix home, one owned by the Shooter Family Trust. And Shooter himself acknowledged that he probably has spent about two-thirds of his time at the Phoenix address since he was ousted from the House earlier this year amid sexual harassment charges.
“Since, by his own admission, Mr. Shooter’s (wife’s) residence is in Phoenix, this is Mr. Shooter’s residence, too,’’ La Sota wrote.
The attorney also pointed out to the justices that on April 30, Shooter’s voter registration was changed from Yuma to the Phoenix address. It was changed back on May 14.
Shooter, under oath, said he had not done it and could not say who did.
Mroz, for her part, did not buy that explanation, ruling that “the evidence supports that Shooter was the person who did it.’’
But the judge said even if that’s true, voter registration is not conclusive but only constitutes “strong proof’’ of residence. And Mroz cited other factors that led her to believe he had never abandoned his Yuma apartment, even if he rents it on a month-to-month basis.
La Sota told the justices there’s no legal basis for that conclusion.
“If Mr. Shooter is a resident of Yuma County, then all one has to do to be a resident of a place is rent an apartment and basically call that place ‘home,’ ‘’ he wrote.
And La Sota said Mroz did not give proper weight to other factors, like the forwarding of Shooter’s mail to the Phoenix address and the fact that the power at the apartment had been turned off after his ouster from the House.
La Sota also urged the justices to reject Nelson’s backup legal argument that they can uphold Shooter’s right to run if they find he lived anywhere in Maricopa County.
He conceded the Arizona Constitution’s residency requirements for lawmakers specifically refers to “county.’’
But La Sota told the justices that dates from the time county lines were district lines. And he told them it needs to be read in a way to interpret the provision to require lawmakers to live within their legislative districts to honor the intent of the framers.
The justices said they recognize they need to have a decision by July 5 to allow for printing of the ballots.
Even if Backus succeeds in getting Shooter disqualified, he still would have opposition on the Aug. 28 GOP ballot. Sine Kerr, appointed to the seat earlier this year, now wants a two-year term of her own.
Whoever survives the primary would face off in November against Michelle Harris, the lone Democrat in the race.