A Chandler legislative candidate will get a second chance this afternoon to convince a judge that her two incumbent opponents should be removed from this year's election ballot, after a judge stepped down from the case and forced a new hearing.
Republican Gretchen Wolfe is challenging the candidate petitions of state Reps. Warde Nichols and Steve Yarbrough, also Chandler Republicans. Nichols and Yarbrough are running for re-election in District 21, which covers most of Chandler and southern Gilbert. Wolfe is their only opponent in the race.
Near the end of a 2 1/2-hour court hearing Monday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pendleton Gaines said he would probably clear Yarbrough's petitions. Gaines directed both sides to return this morning for further arguments on whether Nichols should be dropped from the ballot because he photocopied up to 13 petitions with his signature as the circulator before looking for voters to sign.
But at the start of Tuesday's hearing, Gaines announced he was stepping aside because of a possible conflict of interest that came to his attention during events Monday. Gaines said a new judge would have to hear the entire case.
"It blindsided everybody," Nichols said.
Gaines didn't disclose the nature of the possible conflict, but said he never would have heard the case if he had been aware of it before Monday.
"The integrity of the judicial process is as important as the integrity of the election process," Gaines said.
The new hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday. Wolfe said she would again try to convince the court that both Nichols and Yarbrough didn't follow state law when they circulated their petitions and should be removed as candidates.