The Prosecutor on Trial: Ex-Maricopa County Attorney Faces Disbarment for Political Acts
Nothing was usual when Colorado bar discipline prosecutors John Gleason and James Sudler flew into Maricopa County, Ariz., in March 2010. For security reasons, they used assumed names and stayed at nine different hotels over the next year, as well as rotating through three rental car agencies.
Appointed by Arizona’s chief justice to investigate allegations that Maricopa’s elected prosecutor abused his powers to take down political enemies—even filing bizarre criminal charges against a judge just to prevent a scheduled hearing—they arrived with targets on their backs.
Precautions were worked out by the heads of security at the Colorado and Arizona supreme courts, mindful of the intimidation and harassment faced by many who crossed then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his closest ally and enforcer, the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff,” Joe Arpaio.
While the discipline case was to be decided by early April, appeals are certain either way.
There has been nothing before—in scope and import—like this spectacle, which ended in November. Many professional responsibility lawyers consider this the mother of all discipline trials, though technically it was an administrative hearing.
At age 38 and with virtually no prosecutorial experience, Thomas, a Harvard Law School grad, took office in 2005 after a tough-on-crime campaign, then was re-elected as a populist hero whose battles against illegal immigration helped spark a number of states to enact immigration laws out of frustration with what they see as the feds being feckless on the job. Thomas was instrumental in the movement launched from his state, and the issue is now before the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States.
Early in his tenure, the prosecutor started feuding with other elected officials, judges and county managers. He used the bully pulpit of news conferences and opened criminal investigations against those who criticized or questioned his handling of immigration enforcement and other issues.
The detailed, 33-charge bar complaint accuses Thomas and Lisa Aubuchon, his former go-to assistant for prosecuting politically charged matters, of, among other things, filing criminal and civil cases without probable cause or evidentiary basis; bringing them to embarrass, burden or delay; dishonesty and fraud; incompetence; conflicts of interest; and engaging in criminal conduct (by causing an unknowing sheriff’s detective to swear to a false affidavit for charging a judge with crimes after others had balked.)
It seeks their disbarment.
The bar also recommended a three-month law license suspension for Rachel Alexander, an obscure conservative blogger-cum-assistant prosecutor who was hired by Thomas for her new-media expertise. Then, brushing off warnings from senior aides and Alexander’s own concerns about her inexperience, he tapped the young prosecutor to handle a federal civil-racketeering case against judges, elected county leaders and other political foes that was widely ridiculed as risible.
Indeed, one required predicate act said simply that two lawyers had laughed at the original complaint’s author, Aubuchon, in a courtroom.
The criminal charges Thomas and Aubuchon filed against now-retired Presiding Criminal Judge Gary Donahoe, as well as the RICO case that included him, loom largest in the discipline case.At its core, the racketeering complaint alleged that, in exchange for a new courthouse, several judges were blatantly throwing civil and criminal cases filed by Thomas’ office against county supervisors and others—even though the building project had long been in the works and was already paid for.
Investigators had combed through thousands of documents and found nothing to support the key allegation—that a supervisor pressured the chief judge to hire a certain lawyer for the project—which was based on a second- or third-hand rumor that went uninvestigated and unproven.( Collapse )