Former Justice of the Peace Keith Barth has been formally reprimanded by the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct over internet announcements that declared him a candidate for sheriff while he was still serving in elected office at Sonoita Justice Court.
In a disposition order dated Feb. 14, the commission noted that a Facebook page went live in August 2018 promoting Barth as a candidate for Santa Cruz County sheriff in 2020. In addition, a story titled “Keith D. Barth, Considering a Run for Sheriff for the 2020” was apparently posted to the website sonoitaelgin.com.
Barth’s four-year elected term as justice of the peace expired at the end of 2018.
According to the disposition order, Thomas Fink, the county’s presiding judge, confronted Barth about the Facebook page and pointed out the requirement that a judge resign before becoming a candidate for a non-judicial elective office. Barth then took the Facebook page down, and the website story was removed at some point as well.
Barth claimed that a supporter took the Facebook page live without his knowledge, but when asked to disclose the person’s name, he initially refused. When the commission told him that the information was material to its consideration, he identified the person as a close family member, the order says.
Ultimately, the commission found that Barth violated six rules of conduct by publicly disclosing his candidacy for sheriff while still in office and by initially refusing to name the person responsible for activating the Facebook page. One of the rules he was found to have violated states: “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
The office of justice of the peace in Eastern Santa Cruz County that Barth held for 12 years was eliminated by the county government effective Jan. 1 as a cost-saving measure.