Last week, a Pinal County man pleaded guilty to falsely attesting to his felon status when registering to vote. It’s the latest case investigated and prosecuted by the attorney general office’s Election Integrity Unit (EIU).
35-year-old San Tan Valley resident Roberto Garcia voted in the 2020 general election, despite having six previous felony convictions. Garcia was indicted in the Pinal County Superior Court in March.
Garcia faces a minimum of six months and a maximum of 2.5 years. He will receive his sentencing on August 22 by Judge Jason Holmberg. Probation wasn’t made available.
Public court records reveal that one of Garcia’s previous felony convictions concerned theft in 2006.
Another EIU case was convicted last month. As AZ Free News reported, a Scottsdale woman voted for her dead mother in the 2020 election. The court revoked the voter registration of that woman, 56-year-old Krista Michelle Conner of Cochise County. Conner’s fraudulent ballot wasn’t counted, according to Cochise County Recorder David Stevens.
Prior to that, another Scottsdale woman that also cast a ballot in her dead mother’s name in the 2020 election — 64-year-old Tracey Kay McKee — was sentenced to two years’ probation.
Other recent convictions of voter fraud concerned several elections over the past decade. Those were 70-year-old Marcia Johnson of Lake Havasu City, who cast a ballot in her dead father’s name in 2018, and 62-year-old Joseph John Marak of Surprise, who voted as a felon six times since 2016.
The EIU was formed in 2019 and launched its online complaint form in the summer of 2020.
On Tuesday, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for requiring schools to adopt gender ideology practices in order to receive free or reduced lunch funds. About half of Arizona’s children rely on those meals.
The federal government supplements states with funds to provide free or reduced meals for low-income K-12 students. As AZ Free News reported, the Biden administration updated its Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) guidelines for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to clarify that protected classes within anti-discrimination policy included sexual orientation and gender identity. In the context of Biden’s correlating executive order, the guidelines would likely require schools to allow bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams open to gender identity.
Brnovich asserted in a press release that the Biden administration’s actions are unlawful.
“USDA Choice applies to beef at the market, not to our children’s restrooms,” said Brnovich. “This threat of the Biden administration to withhold nutritional assistance for students whose schools do not submit to its extreme agenda is unlawful and despicable.”
Arizona’s lawsuit is part of a 22-state coalition led by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery. The remainder of the coalition includes Indiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Altogether, the 22 states receive over $28.6 billion in SNAP benefits for over 15.4 million individuals.
The states’ complaint asserted that President Joe Biden directed federal agencies to rewrite federal law in order to align with his January 2021 executive order to “prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity.” The lawsuit further asserted that the USDA circumvented the mandatory legal process outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to implement their new guidelines.
The states described the new guidelines as “arbitrary, capricious, [and] an abuse of discretion.” Specifically, their lawsuit alleged that the Biden administration failed to observe procedures required by law for guideline updates, misinterpreted Title IX, violated anti-commandeering and non-delegation doctrines, and violated the Constitution’s Spending Clause, First Amendment, Tenth Amendment, and separation of powers.
“To be clear, the States do not deny benefits based on a household member’s sexual orientation or gender identity. But the States do challenge the unlawful and unnecessary new obligations and liabilities that the Memoranda and Final Rule attempt to impose — obligations that apparently stretch as far as ending sex-separated living facilities and athletics and mandating the use of biologically inaccurate preferred pronouns,” read the complaint. “Collectively, the Memoranda and Final Rule inappropriately expand the law far beyond what statutory text, regulatory requirements, judicial precedent, and the U.S. Constitution permit.”
Brnovich’s decision to join the coalition lawsuit wasn’t the only action Arizona officials took in response to the USDA guidelines. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ-08) introduced legislation to nullify the gender ideology compliance requirement.
On Monday, Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a warning about cartels recruiting Arizona teens to traffic illegal immigrants across border.
The cartels recruit teenagers through social media ads. They promise to pay up to $2,000 for each illegal immigrant passenger they transport in vehicles, nicknamed “load cars,” to either Tucson or Phoenix.
Brnovich noted that his office has partnered with local, state, and federal agencies to prevent human smuggling in a task force known as “Operation Safe Streets.” At present, their task force averages two to ten load cars stopped a day.
Additionally, Brnovich reported thousands of smugglers coming to the border.
Load car drivers may face a slew of charges including kidnapping and unlawful fleeing.
In March, the youngest load car driver to date was arrested in Cochise County. The 14-year-old had two illegal immigrants in his car.
Earlier this month, Governor Doug Ducey petitioned the major social media companies — Twitter, Snap, Facebook, and Tik Tok — to take down “load driver” posts.
“Inaction only enables cartels to victimize countless youths and families,” wrote Ducey. “Just as your companies work to protect youth from obscenity and violence on your social media platforms, it’s time to protect them from criminal solicitation as well.”
It doesn’t appear the social media giants have taken action.
For now, the residents and developers of a 20-story retirement community recently built in the heart of ASU’s flourishing entertainment district have silenced live music at a popular club, but the owners of Shady Park Tempe promise to appeal.
Mirabella at ASU is located across the street from Shady Park, a popular eatery – dance club where live music has been offered since 2015. But on April 13, a Maricopa County judge imposed several restrictions on the business, making it impossible for Shady Park to hold live music events, according to a company statement.
For its part, Shady Park sees an appeal of Judge Brad Astrowsky’s ruling as the only option to save the business after all these years.
“We remain hopeful that the court system will correct this injustice and that our appeal will allow us to once again host live music and provide a bit of joy and happiness to thousands of people every week,” the statement reads.
And owner Scott Price warns Shady Park will be forced to close down for good if Astrowsky’s ruling is upheld on appeal.
“This is because the revenue from shows is vital to our ability to pay for the other business operations,” Price said of the ruling, adding that “the power and influence of ASU was too much for us to overcome.”
Shady Park and other clubs in along East University Avenue have been in operation long before the Mirabella at ASU project broke ground. And there is no one who does not know that clubs and noise go hand in hand, particularly in a college community.
But ASU President Michael Crowe saw an opportunity to attract developers interested in taking advantage of ASU’s property tax exemption. Mirabella opened in December 2020 while several restaurants, clubs, theatres, and other “nightlife” businesses remained shuttered due to the economic effects of Gov. Doug Ducey’s various public health executive orders.
Once Shady Park reopened in May 2021, the folks at Mirabella complained about the noise. Price shutdown the live music while a canopy was constructed to help with the noise, but more complaints flooded in once live music started up again in September.
The lawsuit filed in October sought a preliminary injunction against Shady Park to prevent live music events which exceed Tempe’s “community standards” for noise. Then just before Astrowsky conducted a trial in February, Mirabella at ASU offered Shady Park “a large sum of money to close down and agree to let them take over our lease,” according to Shady Park.
The trial left many legal observers comparing the Mirabella residents to those who complain about noise after moving into a neighborhood that is in an airport’s well-established flight path. But the judge sided with the newcomers, ruling that residents made a substantial showing of harm caused by the Shady Park live concerts.
Astrowsky also faulted the efforts Shady Park took to address the noise complaints, saying there was “no credible evidence” that the canopy mitigated the noise.
“Shady Park never consulted an acoustical engineer or acoustic consultant,” the judge ruled. “Further, Shady Park did not perform any testing to determine how effective the canopy was at containing sound.”
Astrowsky was also not impressed with Shady Park’s arguments of the financial damage to the business if forced to turn down its music or construct an enclosure “to acoustically seal” the venue. The evidence presented about the impact was merely that of “speculative harm,” he ruled.
To rub salt into the wound, a post-ruling statement by Mirabella at ASU noted the “relief” Astrowsky brought to its residents and the surrounding community.
“We hope the court’s ruling results in peaceful coexistence moving forward and a celebration of a community that is inclusive and respectful of all,” the statement reads in part.
Shady Park says it has ceased all live music operations, “as the restrictions mandated make it impossible for us to hold live music events.” It could take a few weeks before an expedited appeal can be heard, leaving the company without vital revenue.
In the meantime, the ASU Foundation is benefiting richly from Mirabella at ASU, despite the impact to the local community and culture. It is a situation that is garnering scrutiny for other decisions by ASU, the Arizona Board of Regents, and President Crowe for using public tax-exempt property to benefit private businesses.
The Arizona Supreme Court recently ruled that a lawsuit filed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich against the Regents and ASU can move forward to trial. In that case, the attorney general contends the 16-story Omni Hotel Tempe built on tax-exempt public property violates the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause prohibition on providing public monies for the benefit of non-public enterprises.
A jury trial about the ASU – Omni deal could be held as early as Spring 2023.
Arizona law affords students forced to quarantine by their schools for COVID-19 the right to court-appointed counsel at the expense of the state, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich. In an opinion issued last Friday, Brnovich responded to an inquiry from State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) on the issue.
The attorney general explained that schools relying on county health department quarantine or isolation protocol must also adhere to the requirement of counsel outlined in the same law:
“The court shall appoint counsel at state expense to represent a person or group of persons who is subject to isolation or quarantine pursuant to this article and who is not otherwise represented by counsel,” reads the law. “Representation by appointed counsel continues throughout the duration of the isolation or quarantine of the person or group of persons. The department or local health authority must provide adequate means of communication between the isolated or quarantined persons and their counsel.”
The law also stipulates that legal counsel must be acquired at state expense and last the duration of the isolation or quarantine.
In reference to mandatory quarantines for students exposed to COVID-19, Brnovich referenced the authority cited by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) in their letter to communities in August. The letter cited MCDPH authority for student quarantines came from a statute which, in turn, cited the two statutes outlined by Brnovich granting legal counsel.
“When a county health department or public health services district is apprised that infectious or contagious disease exists within its jurisdiction, it shall immediately make an investigation. If the investigation discloses that the disease does exist, the county health department or public health services district may adopt quarantine and sanitary measures consistent with department rules and sections 36-788 and 36-789 to prevent the spread of the disease. The county health department or public health services district shall immediately notify the department of health services of the existence and nature of the disease and measures taken concerning it.”
Brnovich concluded that parents may seek a court order to lift the quarantine immediately, which would initiate the appointment of state-provided legal counsel to the student. A court would have 24 hours to hear the case, and 48 hours to submit its ruling. Counsel would also be available for parents petitioning to change quarantine conditions. In that case, a court would have 10 days to hold a hearing.
“[U]nder MCDPH’s quarantine requirements, which appear to be issued pursuant to A.R.S. § 36-788, MCDPH, through public schools, is mandating student quarantines without a court order. Once a parent or guardian receives the MCDPH letter requiring quarantine, the parent or guardian is entitled […] to immediately seek a court order lifting the quarantine,” wrote Brnovich. “And once a parent or guardian requests court review, A.R.S. § 36-789(M) requires the court to appoint counsel for the student at state expense. Similarly, if a parent or guardian files an action on behalf of the student challenging the conditions of a quarantine, the court is required to appoint counsel for the student at state expense.”
The attorney general noted that Arizona law doesn’t necessarily define “state expense.” He opined that the cost of counsel could fall on county health departments.
That wasn’t Kelly’s only request for Brnovich’s legal opinion as of late. The state senator requested Brnovich’s opinion on religious tests and denial of religious exemptions by employers.
An answer on Kelly’s latest question has yet to be published.