By Daniel Stefanski |
An attorney for the Friends of David Schweikert Committee filed a Motion to Disqualify Judicial Officer for Cause in the Maricopa County Superior Court.
The motion, submitted to Presiding Judge Joseph C. Welty, pertains to the case assigned to Judge John H. Hannah Jr. The case, Hammon v. Friends of David Schweikert, involves a defamation allegation during the 2022 Arizona primary campaign during Schweikert’s contentious battle with challenger Elijah Norton.
The defendants filing the motion – David and Joyce Schweikert, Friends of David Schweikert, and Americans for Accountability in Leadership – took this action “based on newly discovered information that indicates a political preference on the part of Judge Hannah that Defendant Congressman David Schweikert cease to be a member of Congress.”
Schweikert’s attorney, Tim LaSota, wrote in the motion that he “first received information about various political donations that Judge Hannah made that, based on their nature, require disqualification. Specifically, Judge Hannah contributed money in September of 2019 to Hiral Tipirneni, who was at that time running for the congressional seat held by David Schweikert. In addition, Judge Hannah has given money to an entity called Movement Voter PAC, most recently in September 2020. According to the left-wing site ‘Blue Tent,’ Movement Voter PAC is one of the premier groups to give money to if one wanted to ‘help Democrats Win in Arizona this Year,’ and specifically, ‘we recommend giving to the Movement Voter Project Arizona Fund.’ Judge Hannah also contributed $50.00 to a group called ‘One Nation United,’ dedicated to ridding Congress of Republicans, or at least diminishing their numbers such that the Democratic Party Controls Congress.”
The motion states that “Judge Hannah never disclosed his direct political opposition to Congressman Schweikert.” The filing argues, “To avoid appearances of impropriety, judges have obligations of disclosure and candor, including disclosing any reason why they might be perceived as biased on the case (or they actually are), and any sources of information outside the evidence that has been presented to them, as well as giving parties the opportunity to rebut such evidence. Canon 2.11 provides that ‘[a] judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to the following circumstances: [t]he judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or a party’s lawyer…’” It goes on to make the case that “Judge Hannah has made no mention of these specific anti-Schweikert and general anti-Republican political activities during the course of this matter.” And the filing adds, “Judge Hannah’s undisclosed history of backing candidates and causes directly opposed to Congressman Schweikert merits disqualification.”
The Friends of David Schweikert Committee provided the following quote to AZ Free News on the revelations contained in the recently filed motion: “Like all Arizonans, we trust that all judges will take all appropriate steps to avoid bias and impropriety or the appearance of bias or impropriety. At the same time, we would hope that all members of the judiciary will ensure their political activities and donations do not undermine the public’s trust in our judicial system or bring it into disrepute.”
LaSota’s motion makes the point that “Judges will typically recuse at the slightest notion of improper conduct or actual bias, and at the minimum they will disclose issues of ethical conern. When judges fail to do so, they risk stepping outside their anticipated roles as neutral and respected decision-makers and into the role of a partial advocate, which imperils our entire system of justice.”
Former Arizona Legislator Vince Leach would be in agreement of that statement. He told AZ Free News that “After reading the Motion to Disqualify Judicial Officer for Cause, it is disappointing and disturbing that a judge hearing a case involving a United States Congressman would not have seen it proper to recuse himself from this case. Our court system is already looked upon as bifurcated at best, and this does not help that appearance. Arizonans expect fair and unbiased judges. Steps should be taken to make sure that all relevant ethics standards are applied to this judge as warranted through a thorough investigation.”
The motion states that “the Comment to (Ariz. R. Sup.Ct. 81) Canon 3 provides that ‘[a]n independent judiciary requires that judges decide cases according to the law and facts, without regard to whether particular laws or litigants are popular or unpopular with the public, the media…Confidence in the judiciary is eroded if judicial decision making is perceived to be subject to inappropriate outside influences.’ Judge Hannah hearing this case of action is precisely the type of situation that Canon 3, and the other legal authorities, warn of.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.