By Tammy Gray –
Lennard Eltsosie’s name will not appear on the ballot against Navajo County School Superintendent Linda Morrow, but Eduardo Coronado will face off against incumbent John Lamb for the Navajo County Superior Court Judge Division III seat following court rulings on election nomination challenges.
Morrow filed a challenge against Eltsosie that brought into question his qualifications and residency.
The court immediately dismissed the residency challenge, noting that state statute requires the county board of supervisors to determine proper residency of candidates. Eltsosie had listed a post office box in Ganado as his home address. Eltsosie told the court that Ganado is in Apache County, however, he resides in Navajo County and receives his mail in Ganado. Visiting Judge Robert Donfeld explained that the issue was out of the court’s jurisdiction, and would not be considered as part of the case.
In determining qualifications, however, the court found that the state statute requiring a county school superintendent to hold a valid Arizona teaching certificate was clear cut.
“I find it interesting that the state superintendent does not need a certificate, but the county superintendent does,” Judge Donfeld said. “But it does not have any bearing on this case.”
Eltsosie pointed out that he has a master’s degree in educational leadership, is working on a doctorate, previously held an emergency teaching certificate and has held administrative positions in the Piñon School District.
“I believe I am qualified,” Eltsosie told the court. “I can work toward getting a certificate before the election.”
Donfeld noted, however, that his interpretation of the statute left no room for using other qualifications as a substitute for the teaching certificate, nor does it allow for the certificate to be obtained following the filing of nominating petitions.
“You are probably more qualified than the state superintendent, but you are not qualified to run for county superintendent under A.R.S. 15-301(a),” Judge Donfeld said. “The court finds that the defendant does not qualify for election for school superintendent because he does not hold a certificate. It is ordered that his name not be printed on the primary election ballot.”
Eltsosie has five business days to appeal the decision, which was made on June 15.
Superior Court Judge for Division III candidates Eduardo Coronado and John Lamb had each filed challenges to the other’s nominating petitions. Coronado claimed that all 866 of the signatures gathered on the petitions by Lamb were invalid because the petitions did not clearly state the political party or what office Lamb sought. Lamb, whose challenge was filed first, contended that Coronado did not have enough valid signatures on his nominating petitions, and that his U.S. citizenship could not be verified.
Coronado told the court that he was born in Mexico, but later became a U.S. citizen. He provided documents proving his citizenship and Lamb withdrew the portion of his complaint regarding citizenship. The court also made a finding that Coronado was a citizen and registered voter, making him eligible for election in that regard.
Lamb called a number of witnesses to support his contention that Coronado did not have enough valid signatures. Coronado submitted a total of 1,026 signatures on his nominating petitions. According to court documents, a minimum of 494 valid signatures were necessary for either Coronado’s or Lamb’s name to appear on the ballot. Lamb challenged 701 of the signatures on Coronado’s petitions.
Navajo County Recorder Laurie Justman testified that her office had reviewed the challenged signatures and found that 201 were not valid.
“We found 201 that were not qualified (to sign). We only checked the signatures being challenged,” she said.
Lamb’s attorney, Emery LaBarge, told the court that more than 201 signatures should be found invalid. The majority of Lamb’s challenges were based on residency of the signer and whether the circulator of the petition was the same as the individual who signed that they had circulated the petition.
After hearing testimony regarding a number of signers who live in Navajo County, but receive their mail in Ganado, which is located in Apache County, Visiting Judge Robert Van Wyck noted that a similar case was recently heard and the court found that the signatures were valid.
“The court found that the purpose of the address is to verify the identity of the signer,” he said.
Lamb also presented witnesses who testified that the person who circulated several of Coronado’s nominating petitions was not the person who signed as the circulator.
Following lengthy testimony regarding the validity of signatures, the court stopped the hearing, noting that even if he were to find that all of the signatures appearing on petitions that may have been improperly circulated were invalid, Coronado would still have more than the necessary 494 valid signatures. Lamb agreed and conceded his case. Van Wyck found that Coronado was eligible for election.
Following the finding, Coronado and Lamb reached an agreement that Coronado would drop his challenge, and each party would pay his own costs and attorney’s fees.
The primary election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 28.