Ross eyes political comeback after beating charges - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Ross eyes political comeback after beating charges

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Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2008 5:34 pm | Updated: 11:18 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Kevin Ross insists his is a political comeback story, not one of revenge or redemption.

Four years ago, Ross was running for a third term as Maricopa County assessor when he was indicted on three felony counts just months before voters headed to the polls.

Although he eventually beat the charges, it was too late. Ross was soundly defeated by Keith Russell, a political unknown at the time, in the Republican primary.

Ross accused Russell of helping to orchestrate his political downfall in an $8 million civil claim alleging that Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard used false testimony and withheld evidence to obtain the indictments. A judge threw out one of the charges. Ross was acquitted on the second. The lone conviction against Ross was later overturned by the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Russell is also named as a potential defendant in the claim because he met with two of the prosecution's chief witnesses during the investigation, and announced he would challenge Ross before the indictments were announced. The two witnesses became Russell's top deputies after he was elected. Both have since left the office.

Russell said he never conspired against Ross during the election and met with the two men only briefly.

Regardless of the past, Ross said this year's election isn't about personal payback or even an attempt to redeem himself - although a victory would be sweet, he said.

"Will there be a lot of satisfaction in winning back my office? Absolutely," said Ross, who held the post from 1997 to 2005. Since his loss, he has worked as a manager for a real estate company in Gilbert. And in January he filed his multimillion-dollar claim against Goddard.

Russell said he isn't taking the threat of a lawsuit personally, but thinks it has more to do with politics than legal issues.

"I can't quite figure out why I'm there," said Russell of the lawsuit. "But I'm inclined to think I beat him in an election and that's why I'm there."

While the assessor's race historically gets little attention, the office itself carries a big responsibility. The assessor's primary job is to list, classify and value all property in the county for tax purposes.

So far, Russell has a commanding lead in fundraising. According to county campaign finance reports, Russell had raised $25,364 through May. Ross, on the other hand, is lagging far behind, having raised about $5,721 through the same time period.

Legal trouble started for Ross in May 2004 when he was indicted by Goddard's office on three felony charges accusing him of misusing confidential information at the assessor's office to profit in a private business venture.

Ross was later cleared on all counts after his lawyers demonstrated the records were actually public records, not private documents as Goddard's office had contended.

In the September 2004 primary, when Ross was running for re-election under indictment, he lost by more than 20,000 votes. Ross received 83,920 votes to Russell's 107,506.

No Democrat is running for county assessor. The winner in the Republican primary could be challenged by Rachel Kielsky, a Libertarian Party write-in candidate.

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