The longest-lasting, bitterest rivalry in Pima County judicial elections is passing through what voters can only hope is its final round.

Former Justice of the Peace Anne Segal, rebranded as Independent Anne, is once again facing Justice of the Peace Adam Watters in Precinct 1, which covers much of the northeast side of the Tucson metro area. Their last tete-a-tete led to judicial conduct complaints and a lawsuit by Watters against Segal, which was settled last year.

To understand the bitterness, though, you have to go back to 2008. In April that year, Watters, the son-in-law of then-Pima County Supervisor Ann Day, was appointed to replace the recently resigned James Angiulo as justice of the peace. But in November, Segal, running as a Democrat, narrowly beat Watters, a Republican.

Segal ran unopposed, as a Democrat, in 2010, and Watters filled in as a pro tem judge throughout those years. There was always some tension in the relationship, Segal told me this week, and she ran into her own troubles.

She was reprimanded by the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct for intervening in a traffic case involving her son, and after the Arizona Daily Star reported on the case, in 2011, she sued the Star for defamation. The case was dismissed because the story was true.

Segal, who is the daugher of Pima County Superior Court judge Lillian Fisher and aunt of Tucson City Council member Paul Cunningham, told me this week that filing that defamation suit “was the biggest mistake of my life.” It would not be her last misadventure in defamation law, though.

The conflict with Watters exploded into public view in 2014 when Watters ran for the seat again as a Republican, but Segal ran for re-election as a Republican. They faced each other in the primary election, and Watters hammered Segal with mailers, signs and a website pointing out a series of complaints against her at the Commission on Judicial Conduct.

It was fair in that the commission had hit Segal with a series of reprimands over her behavior during her six years on the court. But Segal filed a pair of complaints against Watters at the Judicial Conduct Commission, too, one of which was sustained: Watters had published a picture of himself on his law firm’s website in which he was wearing a robe. That was a violation of judicial rules. She also started a website about him, now inactive, with the nuanced name SoreLoserBully.com.

She shouldn’t have done that. After Watters trounced Segal in the Republican primary, in 2015, he sued her for defamation, in part over the content of that website. For example, she had a link for people to “learn about Adam Watters” that connected readers to a website discussing criminal charges against a different Adam Watters — a British Braveheart impersonator, to be specific.

In settlement discussions, the possibility was floated that Segal would promise never to run for justice of the peace again. But instead, she paid a higher settlement, about $7,000 she told me, to end the case last year.

This year, Segal is running as an independent, and her street signs downplay her last name, calling her “Independent Anne.” Watters, who is the presiding judge at the consolidated justice court downtown, is not taking any chances that the public won’t realize who she is.

In a mailer sent out to district homes he identifies her as “Former Pima County Judge Anne Segal AKA ‘Independent Anne.’ ” The flyer features an extremely unflattering picture of Segal next to a flattering one of Watters. He also has a website dedicated to her downsides, called BounceSegal.com, which is a sort of strange name considering that she is not in a position to be “bounced” from.

Watters seemed to acknowledge the material is “rough stuff” as I described it when I spoke with him. I find it a bit over the top for a sitting judge. But he said, “Not one thing I’ve said against her has been false or incorrect. I’m very careful to ensure it’s all truthful.”

“She decided to run, and I don’t think she’s competent for the job.”

Segal hit back with a mailer referring to him as “Dirty Watters” and featuring its own unflattering picture of him.

Considering this background between the two of them, it is sort of surprising Segal did take on her nemesis. I asked her why she did, and she pointed to her desire to reinvigorate and expand the mental-health court.

“I like being a judge,” she said. “I want to do it because I want to make a difference.”

Whoever wins, what a difference it would make for Precinct 1 voters if these two did not face off again.

Brnovich hits back

You shouldn’t look at the lawsuit filed Wednesday by Mark Brnovich against Tom Steyer and his Arizona political allies as a lawsuit.

Brnovich, as you may know, is fighting off accusations made by a Steyer-funded ad campaign that he “rigged” the Proposition 127 ballot issue and is “corrupt.” He’s right that the allegation of corruption is pretty far-fetched. It relies on the idea that substantial contributions made by Arizona Public Service Co. to the Republican Attorney Generals Association in 2014, along with smaller ones made this year, bought his office’s intervention in the ballot language of Prop. 127.

“Rigged” is not as bad. His office did intervene by adding words to the ballot language on the Clean Energy initiative that it would take effect “irrespective of costs” to consumers. In other words, his office added verbiage about a detail of the proposition’s effect that would tend to increase opposition to the initiative, when he didn’t add anything about other possible costs or benefits on the other side of the initiative’s ledger.

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On Thursday, Brnovich said he was suing to defend his reputation, along with that of his wife, Susan Brnovich, a newly minted federal judge, and the family members who share his name.

“My reputation means something to me,” he said. “You have this California billionaire inventing a line of crap about me. I don’t care about politics. I care about my integrity.”

It is remarkable how suddenly the Prop. 127 campaign veered from spending money promoting the initiative to spending at least $3.6 million that in part or in whole attacks Brnovich. It’s almost as if they’ve given up on the initiative but are determined to take a Republican scalp while they’re here.

But the lawsuit can’t be understood as anything but a public relations effort. The attacks on Brnovich are almost certainly protected speech, and as an experienced attorney he knows that. What the lawsuit does is ensure there will be news coverage of his response to the attacks. Since he doesn’t have a lot of campaign money, filing the suit may be his best avenue for fighting back against Steyer and the Clean Energy gang.

Big money bites back

Speaking of billionaires spending big in Arizona elections, this Brnovich race is a classic case of the unintended consequences of the Republican-led Legislature opening the state up to unlimited dark money and outside money.

Inevitably, the factor that has benefited Republicans in Arizona so much, big money from outsiders like the Koch Bros., would bite them back. As I’ve written before, I think rich liberals spending big in Arizona are the best people to convince state Republicans to tighten up our campaign finance laws. Once they lose a few elections, perhaps like Brnovich’s re-election bid, they’ll see the flaws in letting money flow so freely into our elections.

Sinema loses endorsement

The Arizona State Troopers Association has withdrawn its previous endorsement of Democrat Kyrsten Sinema over Republican Martha McSally for U.S. Senate, The Arizona Republic reported.

The association, which represents current and retired Department of Public Safety officers, had endorsed Sinema for Senate, as it did during her past three election campaigns for the House. But members pushed back on the association’s leadership. Instead, the association will now take a neutral position on the race.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter.

Columnist

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.