By Elizabeth Dowell
An Arizona judge has rejected state Attorney General Kris Mayes’s attempt to terminate an agreement between Cochise County and the county recorder in a Thursday ruling.
The agreement, which was drafted in February 2023, permits the Cochise County’s recorder to be granted control over “almost all of the powers and duties of the election conferred by statute upon the Cochise County Board of Supervisors,” the document states.
After the initial agreement was written, Mayes filed a lawsuit in March on behalf of Arizona against the three Cochise County supervisors and the county recorder, citing that the agreement violates the Arizona Constitution and Arizona law, according to the documents filed.
In Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Howard Fell said the agreement was legal and the board couldn’t intervene with county recorders doing their job during elections.
“The Board does have the power to delegate at least some election duties to the recorder that is not otherwise specifically authorized by law,” Judge Fell said during a live stream of the hearing.
The state insinuated that the board’s move was part of a “pattern of exceeding their statutory authority with respect to elections,” according to the court documents.
“This effective transfer of the Board’s powers to the County Recorder has no statutory basis and threatens the right of Cochise County residents to have their elections conducted lawfully and transparently. The State has brought this action to prevent and redress those harms,” the statement read.
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, expressed his concern over the delegation of duties by the county recorders and said it crossed a “legal line.”
“In addition to this broad transfer of power, I am deeply concerned this move might shield or obscure actions and deliberations the Board would typically conduct publicly under open meeting law,” Mayes said in a statement.
In response to the injunction, members of the board said their arrangement is “perfectly legal,” and the state shouldn’t interfere in their upcoming May election.
“The biggest flaw in the State’s argument is that even though the State pushes for a rushed resolution prior to the May 16, 2023, Cochise County Jail District vote, it ignores the fact that “the governing body of any election district authorized to conduct an election may contract with the board of supervisors and county recorder for election services,” the statement read.
Once the hearing concluded, State Attorney Joshua D. Bendor wasn’t sure what the next legal course of action would be as he “respectfully disagrees” with the judge’s ruling.
“They’ve said they’re hiring an Elections Director a week from today and there’s been some indication they’ll terminate the agreement after that. If they do maybe we’ve done all we need to do here, if things keep going we’ll have to see about what to do next,” he told News 4 Tucson outside the courthouse.
The county was sued for both attempting to implement illegal hand-counting procedures and for refusing to certify the results of the election, during last year’s 2022 midterm elections, according to documents.
Peggy Judd, a Cochise County Supervisor, was in attendance during the hearing Tuesday and was delighted with the outcome.
“I’m just pleased because I feel like we’ve had a lot of losses and a lot of what I would call public humiliation and I don’t blame anyone and for a bit of it I take credit but it felt good to have a judge say this is ok,” she told News 4 Tucson.
Cochise County resident George Preggatis drove up to Tucson to attend the hearing.
“I think the judge made the right decision. I believe the Cochise Board of Supervisors have retained their power and will continue to exercise it appropriately,” Preggatis said.