Thousands of signatures gathered in a petition drive to change benefits for city of Tucson employees should be thrown out, a lawyer argued in court this week.

Some of the people hired to gather signatures had felony convictions, were ineligible to vote in Arizona and by law could not collect signatures or engage in the drive, Roopali H. Desai said in closing arguments Tuesday before Pima County Superior Court Judge James E. Marner.

At issue was the eligibility of six people hired to collect signatures to get the issue on the ballot in November.

The petition organizers were aware the collectors might have been ineligible but still submitted the signatures to the city clerk for verification, Desai said.

Of the nearly 22,700 signatures collected, just 9,488 should be allowed, she said. Proponents need 12,700 valid signatures to get the question on the ballot.

In addition, Desai said some of the people who worked on the petition drive gave false addresses, thereby making their affidavits improper and void. Because of that, Desai said all the signatures gathered by those people should be excluded.

Lawyers arguing on behalf of the Committee for Sustainable Retirement, a group that has funded much of the referendum drive, said any anomalies in the petition gatherers' addresses was accidental.

One of the signature collectors simply wrote the wrong address when turning in his signatures, Lisa T. Hauser, an attorney for the backers, said. Hauser also dismissed the argument that the signature collector should have used the address of a hotel he was staying at and not a temporary address in Phoenix. The person in question lives most of the time in Ohio and California but travels often to different states to do paid work collecting signatures for ballot initiative campaigns.

"You have to say where you live, not where you're currently residing," Hauser said.

The plaintiffs could not prove petition gatherers were ineligible and that some of those in question have had their voting rights restored in the states where they were convicted of felonies, said Hauser and co-counsel Christopher L. Hering.

The plaintiffs, one of whom is a city employee, are fighting a referendum drive that would force a change to non-public-safety employee benefits. If passed, the city would have to switch its pension system from a guaranteed-benefit plan to a 401(k)-style plan.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or On Twitter @pm292.