Signatures are focus in Tucson city pension suit

Lawyers debate who determines petition circulators' eligibility
2013-08-03T00:00:00Z Signatures are focus in Tucson city pension suitDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Penmanship, telephone poles and felonies were some of the topics broached in Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner's courtroom during a hearing on whether to throw off the ballot an initiative seeking to undo the city's pension system.

Two city employees filed a lawsuit last week alleging that ineligible felons and out-of-state circulators collected thousands of signatures for the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits.

Attorneys for the two sides spent a portion of the day Friday debating whether it was the responsibility of the committee to prove its signatures are legitimate, or whether the law requires the challengers to prove they are invalid.

The employees are asking the judge to disqualify around 10,000 signatures they assert were improperly collected or modified.

If those signatures are booted, it would place the measure far below the 12,730 signatures required for the November ballot.

The first challenge for both attorneys on Friday was how to convince Marner the burden of proof is the responsibility of the other side.

Roopali Desai, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued rules regarding felons and other types of voter fraud were established to protect voters and need to be upheld.

"It's not just technical (defects)," Desai said during opening statements. The rules state these violations are "fatal to a signature."

Desai said the challengers hired private investigators to check into the petition circulators' pasts, which uncovered multiple felonies committed in multiple states.

She said her clients believe the circulators were ineligible, and it's up to the committee's lawyer to prove the circulators had their rights restored.

The committee's attorney said if challengers make the allegation, it's up to them to provide the evidence.

Every state has different rules about how they restore a felon's right to vote, said attorney Lisa Hauser, so the plaintiffs have the obligation to prove there hasn't been a restoration.

So what was the evidence?

Don Vogel, a private investigator hired by the plaintiffs' attorneys, testified he checked out the felonies and couldn't locate any court record or other document reflecting rights had been restored.

Vogel also stated he had trouble verifying local addresses for the alleged out-of-town circulators.

One person listed two Phoenix addresses for his residence, Vogel said. The first was an apartment complex where there wasn't any record the person had ever lived there.

The second was just a telephone pole with house numbers on it.

Hauser cast some doubt on the felonies by grilling Vogel over his knowledge regarding other states' restoration requirements.

She said states where some of the felonies occurred, like California, Ohio and Oregon, had laws that granted rights to felons as long as they completed their sentences or weren't currently incarcerated or on parole.

Vogel said he wasn't aware of the rules in other states.

A parade of other witnesses, including a handwriting expert and City Clerk Roger Randolph, resulted in more time being used than what was originally allotted for the anticipated one-day hearing.

The hearing resumes Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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