Ariz. judge won't bump candidate Cortes in Pearce recall

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

MESA, Ariz.  -- Olivia Cortes, the woman accused of being a sham candidate in the November recall election against Senate President Russell Pearce, said she is pleased by a judge's decision affirming her right to be on the ballot.

In a ruling issued Monday, Judge Edward Burke of Maricopa County Superior Court Pearce said Cortes' has done nothing wrong, despite the fact that Pearce supporters orchestrated her candidacy.

"The court finds that Pearce supporters recruited Cortes, a political neophyte, to run in the recall election to siphon Hispanic votes from Lewis to advance Pearce's recall election bid," Burke wrote, adding: "The court finds no wrongdoing by Cortes herself."

Several people who helped circulate nominated petitions for Cortes admitted to being Pearce supporters under oath during a court hearing on Thursday.

But Burke said voters, not courts, should judge candidates, writing: "this court is not convinced that courts should examine and be the final arbiter of the motives political candidates may have for running for election.:

Burke noted that early voting has already started and said he can't risk disenfranchising the electorate.

The lawsuit was brought by retired Mesa school teacher Mary Lou Boettcher who said she is "really disappointed" by the ruling, but hoped that the legal challenge had attracted more attention to the race and would encourage more people to vote.

Cortes, who said she is running because she'd like to "pay something back to Arizona or this country," said she will now turn her focus to planning for a Thursday debate with Pearce and charter school executive Jerry Lewis.

"I'm just gonna go and explain my motives and leave it at that, they have a right to choose," Cortes said.

How her candidacy will affect the election remains to be seen, but political strategist Marcus Dell'Artino of First Strategic predicted it will help Pearce.

"Her staying on the ballot would benefit Russell Pearce going into this election," Dell'Artino said.

Cortes said the publicity surrounding her candidacy has led to campaign donations, although she would not say how much has been raised.

Russell Pearce's campaign manager did not respond to requests for comments.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.