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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Former Top Prosecutor Disbarred for 'Defiled Public Trust'

Failed probes against enemies dog Arizona sheriff
The Associated Press by Jacques Billeaud  -  April 11, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ — Failed corruption investigations launched by America's self-proclaimed toughest sheriff have succeeded in getting one of the lawman's top allies disbarred.  And despite Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's efforts to distance himself from cases at the center of a legal ethics panel inquiry that cost a pair of former county prosecutors their careers — the fallout has moved closer.  "Sheriff Arpaio is the next big step," said Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County official who has been at odds with the sheriff and his allies. "He will fall."  Arpaio has denied wrongdoing, but the three-member disciplinary panel of the Arizona courts said Tuesday that evidence suggests the sheriff conspired with Maricopa County's former top prosecutor to intimidate a judge with unfounded criminal charges.  The ethics board's sweeping ruling against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and one of his assistant prosecutors says they wrongfully brought criminal charges against a pair of county officials, including Wilcox, in December 2009.  The panel said the charges were brought to embarrass the county officials and the judge who had been at odds with Arpaio and Thomas.  Arpaio and Thomas have defended their actions, saying they were working to root out corruption in county government.  Arpaio does not face punishment, but investigations by his anti-public corruption squad were discussed heavily during the ethics investigation into Thomas and one of his deputy prosecutors, Lisa Aubuchon.  Arpaio testified during the hearings, saying in September that he didn't follow the investigations closely and delegated the cases to his then-top assistant David Hendershott.  The ruling disbarring Thomas and Aubuchon marked the first official comment by the state's legal establishment on the validity of the investigations.  It also supported lawyers who said Arpaio and Thomas wrongly went after judges, attorneys and government officials who crossed them, using criminal investigations as a weapon.  Longtime critics are predicting the damage from the failed cases will do what Justice Department lawsuits, claims of civil rights violations and protests over his hardline stance on immigration could not — hurt him with voters.  But predictions of Arpaio's political demise have cropped up many times over his five terms in office, often centering on the deaths of inmates in his jails or his immigration patrols that critics say are infected by racial profiling.  And Arpaio is fond of pointing out that he has survived many storms in the past.  Arpaio, who rarely declines an interview request, commented on the ethics panel rulings Tuesday only through a written statement that described Thomas as a "hard-working professional who served the people of this county for many years."  Arpaio also said in the statement, "Today's decision no doubt is a disappointment to Andrew Thomas, his family and his colleagues."  The sheriff said it would be inappropriate to comment further.

County officials who were targeted in the investigations say the sheriff has run baseless investigations and tried to intimidate county workers for years.  Arpaio and Thomas became embroiled in a yearlong political blood feud with county officials, including County Supervisors Wilcox and Don Stapley.  They brought criminal charges against the officials and a then-Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe in December 2009.  All three cases were dismissed after a judge ruled that Thomas prosecuted one of the officials for political gain and had a conflict of interest in pressing the case.   The ethics panel ruled that Thomas and Aubuchon broke criminal intimidation and perjury laws in knowingly bringing false bribery charges against Donahoe.  "It was clear to us that Mr. Thomas and Ms. Aubuchon were not working independent of the sheriff and vice versa," said John Gleason, an attorney who led the case on behalf of the State Bar of Arizona.  Other county officials and judges who were at odds with Arpaio and Thomas also were investigated but weren't charged with crimes.  Thomas, who called the ethics case against a "political witch hunt," said the decision to charge the judge had nothing to do with the decisions the judge issued against his office.  The panel pointed out the testimony of a sheriff's investigator who recounted the reactions of Aubuchon and Hendershott when they learned the court hearing had been called off. The investigator said Aubuchon looked pleased and Hendershott said, "checkmate."  The ruling said Hendershott credited Arpaio with coming up with the idea of charging the judge, and the sheriff's investigator who signed the criminal complaint hadn't done any investigation of Donahoe.

Separate from the attorney disciplinary case, a federal grand jury also has been investigating Arpaio's office on criminal abuse-of-power allegations since at least December 2009 and is specifically examining the investigative work of the sheriff's anti-public corruption squad that produced the unsuccessful probes.  Antonio Bustamante, a Phoenix civil rights attorney and critic of the sheriff's forays into immigration enforcement, said the Thomas decision, to some degree, politically hurts Arpaio, but he added that many voters don't realize Arpaio's office carried out the investigations.  "Those who know that Joe Arpaio was the investigative muscle behind much of what Thomas did will take note that Arpaio is tinged," Bustamante said.

---------------------RELATED STORY:

Former Top Prosecutor Disbarred for 'Defiled Public Trust'
The Huffington Post - Latino Voices by John Rudolf - April 11, 2012
Andrew Thomas, Phoenix Prosecutor, Disbarred For 'Defiled' Public Trust

A former top Arizona prosecutor and anti-illegal immigration crusader used his office to destroy political enemies, filed malicious and unfounded criminal charges and committed perjury and other crimes, a state legal ethics panel ruled on Tuesday in Phoenix.  The three-member panel voted unanimously to disbar Andrew Thomas, the former Maricopa County attorney, and his former top deputy, Lisa Aubuchon. Thomas was elected in 2004 and resigned in 2010 during his second term to pursue an unsuccessful run for Arizona attorney general.  "This is the story of the public trust dishonored, desecrated and defiled," the ethics panel said.  As chief prosecutor for Arizona's most populous county, which covers much of the Phoenix area, Thomas, a Republican, gained national prominence after joining forces with Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County's controversial sheriff, in aggressively pursuing, detaining and prosecuting undocumented immigrants.  A series of failed public corruption prosecutions, also closely plotted with Arpaio, proved Thomas's downfall. After the cases collapsed, a far-reaching independent investigation authorized by the Arizona Supreme Court revealed stunning ethical lapses, according to the scathing 247-page report by the review panel.  Thomas suffered from "profound arrogance" that led him into "ethical ruin," said the panel, headed by William O'Neill, the state's presiding disciplinary judge.  Thomas, aided by Aubuchon, "outrageously exploited power, flagrantly fostered fear, and disgracefully misused the law," the panel said.  In a decision read from the bench, O'Neill said the panel found "clear and convincing evidence" that Thomas and his deputy brought unfounded and malicious criminal and civil charges against political opponents, including four state judges and the state attorney general.  The charges were ultimately rejected by state grand juries or thrown out of court as meritless, but not before wrecking havoc on the lives of those targeted.  Thomas used his office to settle political scores and worked closely with Arpaio's office in the discredited prosecutions, said Bennett Gershman, a national expert on prosecutor misconduct who acted as a consultant for the ethics investigation. "Anybody who disagreed with them, they indicted," Gershman said. In one instance, Thomas brought criminal charges against a state judge with no evidence and no investigation, in order to stop the judge from filing an adverse ruling the following day in a corruption case. In another case, Thomas indicted a county official on more than 120 misdemeanor and felony counts, despite having clear knowledge that the statute of limitations for almost all of the alleged crimes had passed more than a year earlier. Thomas and Arpaio are under investigation by a federal grand jury for possible civil rights and other charges, according to court documents obtained by the Arizona Republic in 2010. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Phoenix declined to comment on the grand jury proceedings. Despite the harsh sanctions, Thomas remained defiant on Tuesday, declaring in a statement that his disbarment was the result of a "political witch hunt." "Today, corruption has won and justice has lost," Thomas said. "I brought corruption cases in good faith involving powerful people, and the political and legal establishment blatantly covered up and retaliated by targeting my law license." Thomas' claims of persecution rang false to Rick Romley, a fellow Republican who served as Maricopa County attorney for 16 years prior to Thomas's election to the office in 2004. "There is no credibility in that statement," Romley said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "It really begs the question of whether or not he is delusional." Romley, who led several major corruption probes during his tenure, applauded the ethics panel's ruling. "It's absolutely clear that this wasn't a search for justice," he said of Thomas's contested prosecutions. "This is an issue of vindictiveness and a clear abuse of power." Arpaio issued a statement on the disciplinary panel's decision, but did not leap to his former ally's defense. "Today's decision no doubt is a disappointment to Andrew Thomas, his family and his colleagues," said Arpaio, dubbed "America's Toughest Sheriff" by conservatives. "He was a hard-working professional who served the people of this county for many years." "As there are several lawsuits involving some of the same parties and issues involved in today's decision, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further," Arpaio said.

---------------------RELATED STORY:

Thomas defends record as chief county prosecutor
The Arizona Central -  April 11, 2012
Former Maricopa County attorney holds press conference to address disbarment

At a raucous outdoor press conference, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas on Wednesday denounced once again the corruption that he says he aimed to fight, defending his record as chief county prosecutor despite an order Tuesday to disbar him.  "Arizona continues to have some of the worst corruption the country," Thomas, surrounded by sympathetic Tea Party supporters, said at a Wednesday morning news conference in downtown Phoenix.  While Thomas supporters tussled with anti-Thomas protesters, Thomas shouted to be heard above the argument.  Thomas and former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon, who joined Thomas at the Wednesday news conference, were ordered disbarred a day earlier by an Arizona Supreme Court disciplinary panel. The panelt found clear and convincing evidence of ethical misconduct when the pair investigated and sought to prosecute county politicians, judges and others deemed political enemies.  Another Thomas deputy, former Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander, was ordered suspended from the state Bar for six months and a day in the same case.  Thomas said Wednesday that he has not yet decided whether he will appeal, but he said he is going to campaign for a voter initiative to end public corruption. He also said he has a contract to write a book, the subject of which he would not divulge.  As he spoke, his suppoprters held signs such as "Keep Andrew Thomas," "Remember Justice for All," and "Don't Believe the Liberal Media."  Supporter Charlene Hansen said Thomas was disbarred because the "liberal media continues to perpetrate lies about his administration and only writes what benefits Democrats."  Protesters against Thomas also showed up, at times interrupting his remarks by shouting things like, "Where is your friend Arpaio now?" One held sign that read "Arpaio and Thomas, Lock Them Up."  "Someone has to fight for justice," Thomas said, comparing himself to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  Disciplinary sanctions against Thomas and his two former deputies are to take effect May 10, but the sanctions could be stayed until any appeals are heard.  Disbarment would strip them of their ability to practice law in Arizona and could hinder their ability to practice in other states.  The Arizona Supreme Court has the discretion to decide whether consider appeals. It can uphold a disciplinary ruling without comment, remand a case to the disciplinary judge for further consideration or accept jurisdiction and write an opinion with or without holding further hearings.  Maricopa County, meanwhile, is considering whether to continue to pay any future legal bills for Thomas and Alexander. Aubuchon's attorney is handling her case for free, but the legal fees of the other two prosecutors have been paid by the county.


Anonymous said...

Tell me why a federal monitor wasn't placed in Arizona?!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

Power corrupts. And good people get hurt. Very sad.

Anonymous said...

WAKE THE FUCK UP !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
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