Shooter v. Farmer – 7/29/2014

September 2, 2014

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Trial Courts, Not Courts of Appeal, Weigh Evidence and Resolve Conflicting Facts, Expert Opinions, and Inferences Therefrom.

Don Shooter filed suit in 2014 to remove Toby Farmer’s name from the primary ballot for the office of State Senator under A.R.S. 16-351(F).  That statute provides that “all petitions . . . 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.”  At trial, Shooter demonstrated that seven of the signatures on two of Farmer’s petition sheets were signed by persons other than the voters whose names had been signed.  Shooter did not, however, present any evidence as to who had forged the signatures.  Farmer, on the other hand, presented a handwriting expert who opined that Farmer had not signed the signatures at issue.  On these facts, the trial court found “no evidence” that Farmer knew of the forgeries and declined to remove Farmer’s name based on alleged “petition forgery.” 

Shooter appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which affirmed the trial court’s ruling.  The Court rejected Shooter’s contention that the Supreme Court was permitted to draw an inference that Farmer knew of the forgeries from the facts presented at trial and concluded that it could not say that the trial court’s factual findings were clearly erroneous.  The Court also noted that, even without the seven signatures found to be forgeries, Farmer still had hundreds more valid signatures than needed for his name to appear on the ballot.

Chief Justice Bales, Vice Chief Justice Pelander, and Justice Timmer issued the Court’s decision per curiam.