A candidate for the little-known office of constable is running despite a history of clashes with the law, including a domestic violence arrest, violating an order of protection against his former wife, trespassing citations and being prohibited from carrying a firearm.
John Hastings of Mesa is seeking a position in the judicial system that would require him to serve the kind of legal documents that have been served on him. Hastings is seeking the post in the West Mesa Justice Precinct against Constable Fred Arnett, who has been in office since 1999.
Arnett said he was alarmed when he discovered Hastings' background.
"My biggest concern by far is the two biggest documents a constable serves are orders of protection and evictions, and those are the two things he's proven of violating," Arnett said. "Nobody's perfect. Everybody's got some skeletons in their past that they're not proud of but for this particular job, that is the job. It's not like you can get around that one."
Arnett said that once Hastings filed to run, people from Hastings' past called to share their history with the challenger. Arnett amassed public records that include police reports, judicial proceedings, depositions from a divorce and other documents. Arnett posted 871 pages online, which triggered Hastings to say on his blog that Arnett was unfairly attacking him by posting unverified information and releasing personal and confidential information.
In the documents and in interviews, police, Hastings' ex-wife and others say his anger is a cause of concern. Hastings told the Tribune he's being smeared in the campaign and said he doesn't have a temper.
"I don't have any anger issues," Hasting said. "And I guess I have to dare you to prove otherwise. There's nothing."
Public records show a propensity for legal disputes, as he is the plaintiff or defendant in numerous civil suits filed in Valley courts.
Hastings said Arnett is attributing many suits to another John Hastings, but Hastings declined to say how many cases he has been involved with.
"I don't know how that's relevant," said Hastings, who owns a process serving company. "We've had to file some small claims actions on people. We own a small business. Sometimes people don't pay us."
Police records from Utah show Hastings' former wife claimed verbal and physical abuse. Hastings, a student at Brigham Young University, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and banned from the campus. He was cited for trespassing after violating the ban.
BYU's financial aid director documented interactions with Hastings for campus attorneys and police, stating Hastings castigated the school and its employees after assuming he would not get financial aid.
"He seemed to feel that anyone who did not agree with him was against him," the financial aid director wrote in a 2003 letter. "We also felt that he seemed agitated enough that he might become threatening to our office."
BYU officials circulated a photo of Hastings to key employees and were told to call police if he appeared.
Hastings physically attacked his wife when she was nine months pregnant in 2002, a police report states. His wife told police Hastings threatened her and said he hated police.
"I believe that John has a bad problem with his temper and could be a hazard to officer safety along with anyone else who upsets him or is around him when he is angry," a police officer wrote in the report.
A Utah court found Hastings violated an order of protection in 2004, and a judge ordered him to attend domestic violence counseling. He had been sentenced to 30 days in jail but only served seven days because he completed the counseling program.
Hastings said the order of protection isn't relevant to his seeking the constable job.
"I have no comment regarding that," he said. "I don't know why you think digging up something from almost seven years ago is relevant."
Hastings filed for a divorce without children in 2004, though he had a daughter. A Utah County Superior Court judge wrote his credibility was in question because of the misrepresentation.
Also in 2004, a judge prohibited Hastings from having a gun because he was a credible threat to his ex-wife.
A 2006 county report states 14 of 22 constables carry firearms.
Landlord Jeff Dumas said he evicted Hastings for not paying rent, triggering a countersuit where Hastings claimed improper maintenance. Dumas said he's been to court with Hastings five times and when he learned Hastings was running for office, he decided to post Arnett campaign signs at his eight rental properties. Dumas said the battles with Hastings made his wife fearful.
"It was kind of scary seeing he's running for office in my district because I use that court quite a bit," Dumas said.
Hastings said he's never been evicted.
Hastings' current wife, Jill, e-mailed a testimonial to the Tribune on Thursday using the campaign account, saying he trusted her husband with her life.
"I have known John Hastings for 3 years now. He is a wonderful husband, an incredible father and I am very lucky to have him," Jill Hastings wrote. "He has never said nor done anything to hurt me in any way. I have even gone on a few serves with him when I have been worried about his safety. He never carries any weapons to protect himself, not even pepper spray. I always carry a pink canister of pepper spray with me though."
Hastings' process serving business involves serving many of the documents a constable serves. Hastings' campaign promises he'll work full-time, and he cites an audit showing Arnett has not filed activity logs with the county Clerk of the Board. Arnett said he was not aware he needed to file the logs with the clerk until Hastings made an issue of it. He filed the old logs with the clerk and said he continues to file new logs with that office as he updates them.
"They have always been accessible and viewable to the public," Arnett said.
The Tribune asked Arnett for a sample of logs, and within minutes he e-mailed a spreadsheet listing transactions that date to when he began his job in 1999. The logs show eviction notices, which are the most-issued documents, and some years list more than 1,000 transactions a year.
The West Mesa Justice of the Peace, Clayton Hamblen, said Arnett is one of the busiest constables because that precinct is always one of the three busiest in Maricopa County.
A bad constable would be an embarrassment to a court or a threat to public safety if protective orders weren't served, Hamblen said, but he said he hasn't experienced any problems.
"He's done a great job," Hamblen said. "The constable job is one of the few in government where you actually make money. I think Fred brings in twice what he costs."
Constables hold obscure positions that get lost in elections amid more high-profile races. News organizations, watchdog groups and activists give little scrutiny to those in the position.
The elected nature of the job is the result of Arizona becoming a state during a populist era when voters were given greater say in civic matters through elections. The notion worked in small towns where everybody knew the candidates, said David Berman, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has authored numerous books and papers on government.
Berman figures hardly anybody is aware of the position or who is running in any constable race, which tends to mean the person with the greatest name ID wins.
It would make more sense to have appointed constables who must meet higher standards and go through additional training, Berman said.
"It fits along with the mine inspector, sort of," Berman said, referring to another obscure elected post in Arizona. "It's a position that was fairly significant at one time but has sort of become an anachronism."