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Moreno v. Jones - 8/9/2006

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That False Verification of Nominating Petition Does Not Constitute “Petition Forgery.”

A person seeking to appear on the ballot for a partisan primary election must submit nomination petitions signed by qualified electors who either belong to the candidate’s party or are not members of another party represented on the ballot. Republican Russell Jones, a candidate for the State Senate representing Legislative District 24, filed 29 nomination petitions containing 315 signatures, more than the 207 required, with the Arizona Secretary of State. Paul Moreno challenged the petitions in Superior Court, charging that the petitions omitted required information, contained invalid signatures, and contained false verifications by Jones attesting that he had circulated the petitions and obtained the signatures personally. At trial, Jones testified that some petitions he verified as having personally circulated actually were handled by others at an event at which he was present. The judge held that the signatures on these petitions were invalid. Other signatures were invalidated for other reasons, but not enough to bring the number of valid signatures below 207. The judge accordingly qualified Jones for the ballot. Moreno, however, filed a motion to reopen the judgment for a new trial, citing new evidence suggesting that Jones falsely claimed to have circulated other petitions as well. The judge granted the motion and held a new trial, which culminated in a finding that Jones had committed petition forgery, as a result of which he was barred from seeking elected office for five years pursuant to A.R.S. § 16-351(F), which provides: “all petitions that have been submitted by a candidate who is found guilty of petition forgery shall be disqualified and that candidate shall not be eligible to seek election to a public office for a period of not less than five years.”

Jones appealed directly to the Arizona Supreme Court, which heard the case in division, with Chief Justice McGregor, Justice Hurwitz, and Justice Bales participating. Jones’ chief arguments on appeal were that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding that he did not circulate the petitions in question, and that even if he did not, he would not be guilty of petition forgery. The Court quickly rejected the first contention, noting that Jones’ own testimony confirmed that he had not personally circulated the petitions. Turning to the statutory argument, the Court first noted that the statute did not contain a definition of “petition forgery.” Examining the plain language and legislative history, the Court concluded that the term is intended to describe conduct in the nature of falsely signing another’s name or otherwise fabricating signatures on a petition – i.e., conduct violating A.R.S. § 16-1020. Jones could not properly have been found guilty of petition forgery, the Court reasoned, because the evidence indicated only that he had improperly verified petitions that others circulated. Because Jones had collected sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot, the Court remanded the case with instructions that judgment be entered in Jones’ favor.

The opinion was authored by Justice Bales and joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Hurwitz.

Posted On: 8/30/2006