Case against power brokers rebounds on county prosecutor

In 2009, left to right, are Supervisors Don Stapley, Fulton Brock and Max Wilson, Cardinals officials Steve Ryan and Luis Zendejas, and Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox

The antics of President Obama’s Department of Justice are legion, from its insistence on employing only far-left attorneys, its threat to prosecute the CIA, its scandalous “Fast and Furious” gun delivery system to Mexican drug cartels, its battle to overrule residents of a city who wanted to dispense with party affiliations on ballots, its refusal to prosecute the nightstick-wielding New Black Panther Party members to its lawsuit against Arizona for trying to enforce federal immigration law..

It is in this atmosphere that a case has developed in Arizona that is blasting a former prosecutor and two associates for their attempts to follow the book and apply the law to actions by the system’s power brokers and others.

It is so egregious that even the former prosecutor’s harshest critics are saying that the overreaching “gives credence to [Andrew] Thomas’ claim that he is the victim of a witch hunt.”

That was from columnist Robert Robb, who has made made no display of supporting Thomas.

“I have written scathingly about the gross abuse of power by former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio,” he said. “Thomas and Arpaio proclaimed that there was a giant conspiracy involving the county board of supervisors, senior county management and several judges in which the judges agreed to protect county officials against criminal probes in exchange for the county constructing a new office building for the judges.”

Robb said there was no evidence to support the racketeering and criminal complaints brought against Superior Court Judge Gary Donahue.

But he said the complaint brought by the Arizona Bar Association against Thomas includes “gross overcharging,” which he called a “serious disservice.”

Thomas, while not as well known as his county’s sheriff, the law-and-order Joe Arpaio, still was noted for his tough stances on enforcing immigration laws.

But now a trial is under way in Maricopa County on charges by the bar association, which is seeking to sanction or disbar Thomas and assistants Lisa Aubechon and Rachel Alexander.

Attorney Don Wilson, who is defending Thomas, summed up the dispute.

“Clearly this matter is politically charged,” he told WND. “My client dared to challenge the judiciary and powerful politicians.”

He continued, “Mr. Thomas was warned by his senior advisers that doing so could undermine his career, but he believed no one should be above the law, and that the electorate had entrusted him with the duty to enforce the law, even at the expense of his own interests.

“He believed then, and continues to believe, that he was doing the right thing.”

The case alleging misbehavior, however, was unsuccessful. Now the bar association has responded with an apparently politically charged 82-page complaint that so outraged the Maricopa County Republican Association that its members passed a resolution to denounce it.

That resolution reads in part:

“WHEREAS, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio have been leaders in the fight to crack down on illegal immigration, taking on activist judges who tried to thwart Proposition 100 (no bail for illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes), and investigating corruption at the county level;

“WHEREAS, in a politically motivated move due to its opposition to Arpaio’s and Thomas’s policies, the State Bar of Arizona, which is under the control of liberal attorneys and criminal defense attorneys, is attempting to take the license to practice law from Andrew Thomas, one of his former prosecutors Lisa Aubuchon, and discipline a third former prosecutor, Rachel Alexander;

“WHEREAS, even a columnist for the liberal Arizona Republic, Robert Robb, has denounced the bar’s investigation, writing about the bar’s investigation, ‘Many of the alleged ethical violations are grounded in the claim that Thomas acted in bad faith for political retaliation. I doubt the evidence will clearly establish that.’

“WHEREAS, the state bar of Arizona has a history of refusing to take action against those who agree with their political philosophy;

“NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the Maricopa County Republican Executive Guidance Committee that it demand the state bar drop the baseless and politically motivated investigation into Andrew Thomas, Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander.”

The bar association complaint describes Thomas, Aubechon and Alexander in some areas as “incompetent,” and in other areas as “dishonest.”

A reading of the complaint indicates it is largely focused on Thomas and his relationship with Maricopa County Board Supervisor Don Stapley.

In 2006, Stapley tried to rein in Thomas’ ability to hire outside counsel for the county, saying that Thomas based his “appointments upon who was favorable to him, not necessarily who was best qualified to represent the county.”

According to the complaint, the board, under Stapley, wanted to oversee attorney selection and even hire outside counsel for the board itself. Thomas let them know on numerous occasions that this was illegal.

The complaint quotes Thomas as saying, “Board members are immune from suit when they rely in good faith upon opinions of the county attorney, but no such immunity would apply and they may be personally liable for actions on advice of other counsel.”

In other words, the citizens of Maricopa County elected Thomas to be the county attorney, and Stapley’s actions gave the appearance of circumventing the wishes of the voters, said analysts.

The Arizona Bar Association took Thomas’ admonition of the county board to be a conflict of interest.

A third party decision-maker, Colorado Supreme Court employee John Gleason, was appointed by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch White to the case. Gleason said in his complaint Thomas placed his own interests – that of wanting to retain control over hiring outside attorneys – over the interests of the county board, who wanted to hire attorneys on their own.

Thomas is then accused of using the office of the county attorney to investigate Stapley for criminal wrongdoing. In fact, a grand jury brought more than 100 charges against Stapley, ranging from failing to file financial disclosures to accepting expensive gifts such as three-week Hawaiian vacations and expensive ski trips for Stapley and his family.

The allegations arose that Stapley raised political contributions to run for president of the National Association of Counties, even though he was running unopposed.

The cash he raised was alleged to have been used to pay for personal luxuries instead.

But several judges who handled various steps of the case threw out charges, even though outside investigators had cited the “merit” of the counts. And bar association officials said the one-year statute of limitations had expired on dozens of charges.

Ultimately, none of the counts went to trial, and Stapley testified before the bar that the investigation “ruined his life.”

Thomas also was accused of making public statements about the county board, including that a number of complaints were due to the “unusual chairmanship” of Stapley.

That generated the accusation that he was revealing information about his client.

The assistants were embroiled in the fight because they had filed various paperwork in the cases.

Alexander played a small role in a racketeering case against the board and several judges that, before it was dropped, contained allegations concerning the use of $347 million of taxpayer funds to fund a court tower in the midst of an economic downturn.

The tower featured penthouse quarters for judges and raised eyebrows as it was done at a time when county employees were being laid off.

According to Thomas’ attorney, “ He [Thomas] believed (and still does) that his investigation was being hindered by the defendants in the RICO case.”

Thomas was forced to turn that case over to the U.S. Justice Department, as the county board stripped him of resources he needed to continue the investigation.

The DOJ, which also is suing the state to prevent it from enforcing immigration laws, has since refused to investigate.

Alexander also maintains a conservative blog called the Intellectual Conservative, prompting supporters to say that’s why she is now facing accusations.

The trial over the bar association’s allegations started in September and is expected to last into November. Thomas and Aubechon face disbarment, while Alexander may have her license suspended.

The American Thinker wrote an Oct. 12 that, “Arpaio’s and Thomas’ attempt to end local corruption has come at a price: the State Bar of Arizona (SBA) has begun prosecuting Thomas and two of his deputies in a move that reeks of political retaliation.”

And a article says the charges are “politically motivated” by the “Maricopa Machine.”

The “machine that knows how to protect itself by having all of the criminal charges against Stapley assigned to judges that ultimately dismissed them.”

The actions by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and now the Arizona Bar Association have alarmed many, including Thomas’ political opponents.

Ernest Calderon, a Democrat and former president of the ABA offered to review six charges against Thomas.

His assessment? “I do not believe that any of the complaints have merit.”

And what happened after that assessment. His pending renewal to a post in the ABA House of Delegates foundered.

In its statement, the Arizona Bar Association said it already has spent more than $280,000 on the prosecution. And spokesman Rick DeBruhl told WND there was no political involvement.

He said there are Democrats, Republicans and independents on the board.

But Prof. Geoffrey Hazard, who helped write the bar association rules, also concluded the allegations have “no merit,” and he said the bar association itself has acted unprofessionally.

Hazard noted that the chief bar association counsel had cited a Rule 53 – but then quoted only part of the rule.

He said the part of the rule omitted gives Thomas, Aubechon and Alexander legal justification for withholding information in the case.

Whatever the outcome of the bar association process, the Maricopa County Republicans “demand that the state bar refrain from any future politically motivated investigations of attorneys due to its inherent left-wing bias.”