A Mesa woman running in Senate President Russell Pearce's recall election has dropped out of the race, halting a legal challenge that claims she was a fraudulent candidate meant to siphon votes from the contest's other contender.
Olivia Cortes filed a voluntary withdrawal with the Arizona secretary of state's office Thursday.
She later issued a statement saying she dropped out of the race because of what she called "constant intimidation and harassment" of herself, her family, friends and neighbors.
"So for me, the dream of having a voice has died," Cortes' statement said, adding that she wanted to address economic, education and immigration concerns.
Cortes lawyer Anthony Tsontakis said earlier that his client accepted an offer by attorneys for a Pearce critic to cancel a court hearing Friday if she stepped out of the race.
Pearce faces charter school executive Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican, in the Nov. 8 recall election that resulted from a petition drive. Its organizers said Pearce has been out of touch with district voters' concerns on education, health care and the economy. He denies that and says recall organizers targeted him because of his support for laws against illegal immigration.
Recall supporter Mary Lou Boettcher filed a lawsuit challenging Cortes' candidacy, and a judge ruled Monday that there was evidence Cortes was recruited to run in the recall election to help Pearce by attracting votes that otherwise could go to Lewis.
However, Burke ruled that Cortes could remain on the ballot because she appeared to be sincere, because ballots already had been sent to overseas and military voters, and because any questions about her candidacy should be judged by voters, not the courts.
The challenge was revived when Boettcher's lawyers filed a motion saying they could present new evidence linking the campaigns of Pearce and Cortes.
Burke on Tuesday agreed to hold a hearing Friday, and the Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Cortes' request to block it.
Cortes' name will still appear on ballots because they've already been printed, but her withdrawal means she wouldn't take office if she gets the most votes, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office.
Signs will be posted at polling places to notify voters that Cortes no longer is a candidate, Roberts said.
Approximately 28,000 early ballots will be mailed as-is to voters on Oct. 13 under the schedule set by state law, said Maricopa County Election Director Karen Osborne. Those ballots are already in envelopes and it's too late to consider enclosing a notice about Cortes' withdrawal, she said.
Lewis campaign co-chair John Giles said Cortes' withdrawal was cynically timed to keep her name on the ballot but to avoid more courtroom questioning under oath.
"Despite all the negative press and all of the efforts that will be made to educate people, I'm sure there will be a lot of votes cast by mistake for Ms. Cortes," Giles said. "And those are votes in nearly every case that would have gone to Mr. Lewis."
H. Michael Wright, one of the attorneys for Boettcher, said the offer to end the challenge in exchange for Cortes' withdrawal was originally made and declined last week, before the first hearing. Tsontakis did not say why Cortes ultimately accepted the offer, Wright said.
"Everybody can draw their inferences for it," Wright said. "Obviously it was in her interest or somebody's interest that the hearing not go forward."
Tsontakis asked Thursday if the offer was still on the table, and he accepted it on behalf of Cortes when told that it was, Wright said.
Pearce has denied knowing Cortes, and Pearce's campaign spokesman Ed Phillips has said the campaign was not involved in launching her candidacy.
Wright declined to provide specifics but said subpoenas issued for people to testify in Friday's now-canceled hearing included ones for Greg Western, a tea party activist who previously testified that he helped launch her campaign, and Lester Pearce, a Maricopa County justice of the peace and brother of the lawmaker.
"I believe that his testimony would have been that he was helping with both the Pearce campaign and the Cortes campaign," and similar testimony was expected from Western, Wright said.
Western and Lester Pearce did not immediately return calls seeking comment.