The Arizona Attorney General’s Office confirmed Monday to Arizona Daily Independent that former Cochise County prosecutor and 2020 judicial candidate Sandra Finch Russell has been indicted by a state grand jury on a charge of perjury.
Russell, 48, ran as an Independent in the 2020 General Election for the Division 5 seat on the Cochise County Superior Court. She was seen as a strong contender for the bench but came in third after questions were raised about whether she met the judicial residency requirements outlined in the Arizona Constitution.
The criminal indictment secured earlier this month by the attorney general’s Election Integrity Unit alleges Russell committed a Class 4 felony by placing her signature to a “Declaration of Qualifications” filed with the Cochise County Elections Department in April 2020 as part of her candidacy.
Chris Russell, Sandy Russell’s attorney and her husband, said he was not aware of the indictment until he read a media report about it. He stressed that it is important to allow the process to run its course.
The issue of Russell’s eligibility to serve as a superior court judge was raised by Anne Carl, who had secured the Democratic Party nomination for the Division 5 opening brought out by the pending retirement of Presiding Judge James Conlogue.
Carl had learned that Russell voted in Georgia in May 2016 using an absentee ballot. To have cast a ballot in Georgia at that time, Russell had to complete an “Oath of Elector” statement by which she swore to be “a citizen … of the State of Georgia,” according to the attorney general’s office.
However, Russell claimed on her Cochise County declaration that she would be a citizen of Arizona for seven years at the time of the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election. She also testified at a September 2020 hearing about her residency that she took steps in 2014 to become an Arizona citizen.
Arizona law only permits an individual to have one place of residence for purposes of voting and seeking elected office. The Arizona Constitution requires all candidates for the office of Superior Court Judge be residents of Arizona for at least five years prior to taking office.
Russell, who holds law licenses in Arizona and Georgia, maintained a residence in DeKalb County, Georgia because her daughter’s father lived in the state. After the September 2020 hearing, Conlogue issued an order denying Carl’s motion to remove Russell’s name from the ballot, ruling that “the preponderance of the evidence” showed Russell would meet the five-year residency requirement.
Conlogue’s order did not, however, address whether Russell would have been a resident for seven years as per the notation on her Declaration of Qualifications. He also declined to rule on another of the constitutional requirements, that of good moral character.
The Arizona Supreme Court later ruled that Conlogue erred in conducting a hearing on Carl’s challenge to Russell’s candidacy. But the justices’ ruling had nothing to do with whether Russell met the residency requirement; instead, they ruled Carl simply initiated the residency challenge too late.
When contacted, Carl welcomed the attorney general’s announcement but would not discuss whether she had been contacted by the AG’s Election Integrity Unit.
“I think all of us want to see rules and laws adhered to, especially when it comes to our elections,” she said. “I have no further comment.”
Russell is scheduled to be arraigned in Cochise County Superior Court in the near future, although it is unclear whether the case will be transferred to a different county due to potential conflicts.
The attorney general’s announcement noted that Assistant Attorney General Todd Lawson is prosecuting the case, and that all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre, Russell’s former boss, declined to comment on Russell’s indictment. Jason Lindstrom, one of Russell’s former colleagues at the county attorney’s office, won the election and was sworn into Conlogue’s old division in January of this year.
EDITOR NOTE: This article was updated to include a comment from Ms. Russell’s attorney, as well as to clarify the issues Judge Conlogue considered at the September 2020 hearing.