Judgmental Attitudes: Moon Valley Political Signage Provides More Questions Than Answers

M.V. MoorheadSeptember 2, 2020
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Among the ugly, squalid growth of political signage that had sprung up along the street corners in my part of town in the lead-up to last month’s primary election, one sign in particular caught my eye. Near some of the standard signs for incumbent Moon Valley Justice of the Peace Andrew Hettinger…

…were these signs, depicting Hettinger as a wolf in…

…well, not as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but as a “Republican in Democrat Clothing!” A Republican wolf in Democrat clothing. The sign warned that Hettinger is “NOT A TRUE DEMOCRAT” and that he “Switched to Democrat just 12 days before filing to run.

First of all, I had no idea that Clark Kent glasses, a red ascot and a straw boater constituted proper “Democrat clothing.” Being a lifelong Democrat, I suppose I’d better re-think my wardrobe.

But it also occurred to me that maybe I should look into the sign’s implication. There are, of course, legitimate reasons why a candidate, or indeed anybody, might switch political parties. Maybe your ideology shifts away from your party. Maybe the party’s ideology shifts away from you. Maybe a little of both. But it could also be a cheap tactic for political advantage.

So I decided to get in touch with Judge Hettinger, who since 2016 has been JP in the Moon Valley Justice Court’s jurisdiction covering a large chunk of north-central Phoenix including my house, to see if he would give me some idea of why he made the switch. I left a message, got a text back with his email, and sent him the following:

Judge Hettinger — M.V. Moorhead here. Appreciate you getting back to me. I called because of a couple of signs I’ve seen in my neighborhood implying that you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that is to say, that you only recently switched your party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. So I guess my questions are the obvious ones:

First, why did you make the switch?

Second, what’s your opinion of President Trump and the current Republican leadership?

Third, where do you agree with the general Democratic agenda? Where do you differ?

Greatly appreciated; MV

The following day, I received this reply:

Hello Mr. Moorhead, 

Thank you for your email and questions. I am sorry I could not provide more substantive answers for questions 2 and 3, but I strive to keep my conduct and communications strictly in compliance with the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct. Please see below for my responses. 

First, why did you make the switch?

“An independent, fair and impartial judiciary is indispensable to our system of justice” Preamble, Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct. As Justice of the Peace, I uphold the law without regard to my personal political views.

In 2019, I made the personal decision to change my party affiliation. Since taking office as our community’s Justice of the Peace, I had become increasingly disillusioned with the negativity and hyper-partisanship in our political system. In early 2019, I listened to a podcast featuring an interview of Andrew Yang, an unconventional Democratic presidential candidate with big ideas and this motto: Humanity First; Not Left, Not Right, Forward. I recognized those values in the policies I implemented as our Justice of the Peace, and I was inspired by his positive, progressive and practical message.

After careful consideration, I made the personal decision to change my registration to the Democratic Party. Upon making the change, I immediately went to work running for re-election. Over the last 14 months, I have walked every neighborhood in the district to make myself available to voters and the public, worked hard to continue implementing practical and progressive changes in the Moon Valley Justice Court and upheld the law. I am proud to be a Democrat and respect everyone’s freedom to affiliate with the political party of their choice.

Second, what’s your opinion of President Trump and the current Republican leadership?

“A judge or a judicial candidate shall not do any of the following: publicly endorse or oppose another candidate for any public office” Rule 4.1(A)(3), Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct.

Third, where do you agree with the general Democratic agenda? Where do you differ?

Even when subject to public election, a judge plays a role different from that of a legislator or executive branch official. Rather than making decisions based upon the expressed views or preferences of the electorate, a judge makes decisions based upon the law and the facts of every case. Therefore, in furtherance of this interest, judges and judicial candidates must, to the greatest extent possible, be free and appear to be free from political influence and political pressure.” Rule 4.1 Comment 1, Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct.

Best, 

Andrew Hettinger

Hmm. This seemed a little squirmy and evasive to me. I made another try:

Judge Hettinger – Greatly appreciate your reply. Hoping for some additional clarification: As to question 1 when you say you became ‘increasingly disillusioned with the negativity and hyper-partisanship in our political system’ can I infer from your action that you found the Democratic Party LESS so than the Republican Party? Or was your switch based principally on your admiration for Mr. Yang?

As to question 2: Yeah, I get it, but I wasn’t asking you for an endorsement or an opposition; I was asking for an opinion, something that judges are occasionally asked to give. 🙂

As to question 3: Yeah, but I wasn’t trying to influence or pressure you with regard to a decision; I was asking you about your personal political views in general. Is a voter not entitled to know those? If not, on what basis should we vote for you? Again, thank you for your time; best MVM

The next day, I received this reply:

Hi Mr. Moorhead, 

Respectfully, I stand by my previous answers. I have attended several training sessions regarding judicial ethics and the Code as part of my continuing education, and those are the answers I feel comfortable providing. 

I hope that voters will consider me based on my qualifications and accomplishments while serving as our community’s Justice of the Peace during the last three and a half years:

Criminal Justice Reform – I have boldly implemented several of the Arizona Supreme Court’s “Justice for All” Task Force recommendations for non-victim misdemeanor offenses, including mitigating fines and fees when the amount imposes an unfair economic hardship and setting hearings for individuals convicted of crimes to explain their situation when they fail to pay fines or comply with court orders, rather than immediately issuing a warrant

Improved Case Management and Efficiency – In January of 2017, I took over a Court that had 328 pending civil cases over 400 days old and 187 pending small claims cases over 200 days old. As of June 30, 2020, there were 0 pending civil cases over 400 days old and 0 pending small claims cases over 200 days old.  

Mentorship – I was selected to serve as a Mentor Judge; in this role, I helped train newly elected Justices of the Peace.

Additionally, I am a husband and father, Eagle Scout, Certified Public Manager, Arizona licensed attorney since 2013, former full-time mediator who understands how to work with people through complex legal situations patiently and effectively and current “Big” (mentor) with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona since 2014.

Best, 

Andrew

OK, well, that does seem like a list of solid achievements for a Justice of the Peace. But it still seemed odd to me that he didn’t want to discuss his beliefs. Didn’t he want to practice for his SCOTUS confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee someday?

Anyway, it seemed clear that I wasn’t likely to get much more from Hizzoner. Time to check in with his accusers. The “wolf signs” were paid for by an outfit calling itself Citizens for Honest Public Servants. There was a phone number. I called it, and soon received a text saying I’d get a call the next day, and also that the signs were “disappearing from where Shawna bollick’s [sic] now are, using OUR rebar.

Hijacked rebar? The scandal deepens.

After a day or two of phone-tag, I finally connected by phone with Maria Flores, one of the two people who started Citizens for Honest Public Servants in May, mainly to target Andrew Hettinger.

“He has a long trail of deceitful and dishonest actions,” says Flores.

She pointed to a 2017 reprimand Hettinger received from the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, for obtaining the domain names of other candidates. According to the Arizona Capitol Times/AP account of the reprimand, Hettinger “acknowledged mistakes” in the matter.

More recently, Flores told me, Hettinger had hired a private investigator to follow his Democratic primary opponent, Deborah Ann Begay, who he eventually sued and dragged into Maricopa County Superior Court in April of this year, disputing that she was a Democrat, or a Moon Valley resident. She encouraged me to contact Begay, saying she was very willing to discuss the matter.

Indeed she was.

“His lawyer served me at 5 p.m. on a Friday,” recalled Begay. “The court date was the following Tuesday morning. I think they thought I wouldn’t show up. But I sort of represented myself, with the help of a pro bono lawyer.”

In the hearing, says Begay, Hettinger’s attorney presented numerous photos of Begay’s children, supposedly as part of the case that Begay didn’t really reside within the Moon Valley precinct. Begay interpreted this as an intimidation tactic.

“I’m lesbian, so maybe it was an attempt to make me ashamed,” she says. “His lawyer kept calling me ‘Mr.’ and ‘sir.'”

The stunt didn’t work.

“I did prevail,” says Begay, “because I presented my easily retrieved card [showing she was a Democrat].”

So maybe the guy really is a wolf. Or, at a minimum, a weasel.

I asked Flores why she thinks Hettinger became a Democrat.

“The only reason that I could see why he would switch is the shifting demographic in Moon Valley.” Flores also admits that, “From what I understand, on the bench, he behaves scrupulously. Maybe he knows he’s being watched.” But Flores recalled that when Hettinger came to her door while campaigning in her neighborhood, “I asked him where he stood on the death penalty, and other questions like that. He had nothing to say.”

Whatever the reason for it, Hettinger’s move didn’t pay off. Begay drubbed Hettinger in the August 4 primary, 71 percent to 29 percent, and will face Republican Michael Irish, whose signs feature a big shamrock with a gavel in the middle, in November’s general election. Irish was recently quoted as saying, of BLM protesters, that it was “time to start putting these idiots in their place” and that “blacks cause a lot of their own inherent problems” but “…want to blame slavery for those problems.” Somehow it seems unlikely that Irish will be going Democrat anytime soon.

On the other hand, maybe now Judge Hettinger will feel less ethical restraint over discussing his enthusiasm for the Democratic Party.

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