Power Play

County law enforcement's attack on the judiciary didn't work, but the war's far from over

Also, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a team of detectives in his Selective Enforcement Unit whose primary task has been to investigate anyone perceived to have threatened Arpaio. It made sense that the unit would be ready, willing, and able to look into death threats against a judge.

In May 2002, the New York Times quoted the sheriff about a foiled plot to kill him and then-Arizona governor Jane Dee Hull:

"It only takes one time to die," Arpaio said.

Presiding County Judge Barbara Mundell has battled Andrew Thomas since 2005.
Presiding County Judge Barbara Mundell has battled Andrew Thomas since 2005.
Judge Ed Burke rejected efforts by Thomas to get a senior judge booted off all criminal cases.
Judge Ed Burke rejected efforts by Thomas to get a senior judge booted off all criminal cases.

But that was Arpaio carrying on about his favorite subject — himself — not about threats against a judge who had gotten crossways with Arpaio's ideological blood brother, County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

What happened next in the Ryan case speaks volumes about the dangerously dysfunctional relationship between the 95-member local judiciary and the county's two most powerful elected law enforcement officials.

According to an incident report filed by sheriff's deputy R.W. Carney, he and another deputy met Judge Ryan at the courthouse about 10:30 on the morning that Ryan had reported the published threats.

Carney wrote in his half-page report, "Judge Ryan gave me a copy of the article that appeared in the Arizona Republic, and a copy of the blog posted by the online name of [redacted], which is attached to this report."

Carney said he would forward a copy of his report to the MCSO's special-investigations unit "for follow-up."

Judge Ryan tells New Times he also spoke with a sheriff's detective, who asked him to provide a copy of the Web site comment that likened killing judges to the infamous murder of Don Bolles.

Ryan, who says he has had a trusting relationship with the courthouse-based sheriff's deputies since becoming a judge in 2005, did as instructed, adding that it took MCSO detectives a few days to collect the document.

That was the last he heard from the Sheriff's Office on the matter.

Weeks later, the judge contacted the U.S. Department of Justice about the Web comments. He says he has been told the FBI is looking into the case.

The distinction is stark between the Sheriff's Office's lackadaisical probe into the threats against Ryan and the no-stone-unturned approach that the MCSO takes in investigating anyone who may mean harm to Sheriff Arpaio.

Earlier this year, the Republic reported that the financially strapped Sheriff's Office had spent more than $500,000 investigating a dubious plot to kill Arpaio. One of several alleged threats against the sheriff's life over the years, this one was based on "information" from a paid source.

According to the informant, the plot was hatched by the anti-immigration Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which supposedly was in cahoots with a local Latino activist and talk-show host to have the sheriff assassinated. The group allegedly was going to pay members of a Mexican drug cartel $3 million to murder Arpaio, with the motive of spurring average citizens to rise up in outrage against illegal immigrants.

The informant's cockamamie story never panned out, though Arpaio continues to claim publicly that the investigation remains open.

"If judges are doing their jobs, on occasion they will make other branches [of government] really angry," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy once said.

He could well have been talking about Maricopa County.

Andrew Thomas has been really angry with the local judiciary since the day he assumed office in January 2005.

As for Joe Arpaio, well, he is just angry, period, with anyone who does not agree with his view of the world. Those on his hit list have included certain media, former County Attorney Rick Romley, who wouldn't go along with some of the sheriff's publicity-driven stunts; and people charged (forget convicted) with crimes. More recently, Arpaio added illegal immigrants and local police chiefs, the immigrants because they're a handy hot-button topic and the chiefs because they generally don't subscribe to his blitzkrieg approach to tackling the issue.

Thomas especially has been determined to intimidate county criminal judges into doing his bidding — letting them know that, if they don't, they will face the consequences.

The consequences have included a series of complaints against one highly respected judge with the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, and public dressing-downs of judges, as when Thomas commissioned private attorney Dennis Wilenchik to try to impress upon Judge Ryan and the bench what might happen if they rule in ways that displease the county attorney.

Thomas' message to the judges is, we are in charge here and you, ladies and gentlemen, are figureheads who will do our bidding; otherwise, my office will make your lives miserable.

As for Arpaio, many at the courthouse are convinced that an extraordinary November 5 shutdown of criminal proceedings — allegedly because of a budget crunch and "misunderstandings" that kept deputies from getting inmates to their hearings — was designed to let the judges know who's really in charge.

The tag team of Thomas and Arpaio has the great advantage of the bully pulpit. The county attorney and sheriff have a stage from which they can spew tough-guy rhetoric about the need to corral the rampaging hordes of criminals from south of the border, and about weak-kneed judges who supposedly pamper the brown-skinned bandidos in court.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Thomas Trottier
Thomas Trottier

Elizabeth Cottor is a Snake as you can tell by her evil scowl and Shark like facial features. My son was prosecuted by her and she would not so much as even let him speak. If only he could explain at 17 what he had done when he was 16. But since he was prosecuted as an adult, and at that age the court system seems very intimidating, but a fair trial would have saved him 2 years of his life. For an auto accident where a unlicensed drug-taking uninsured driver was actually at fault. Her ethics are indeed tainted by her association with Andrew Thomas and his bottom feeder ethics. I am glad that she will never see her dream of becoming a Judge come true, I prayed faithfully for God to stop her. Prayer works!

JA Moran
JA Moran

maricopa county, and the state of Arizona need political and justice officials that will seek to be "reasonable and fair" that is true justice. Don't use one's position to try and squash your political opponents. The Maricopa County Attorney and Sheriff use any opportunity to get their face infront of a camera and make their point. They should stick to doing their jobs, be "reasonable and be fair", not going after people who disagree with them. We are supposed to be a democracy and in a democratic society people should be free to voice their disagreements. Also you should be free to publish the truth as the facts support, not as some political officials want. Do I need to remind people what happened to the guy who played "Joe Arizona" in political ads and what another person named Joe did to him because he made this other "Joe" look bad ??


Leonard Clark
Leonard Clark

Please, if you feel that these two fascist thugs should be stopped legally, constitutionally and non-violently help us with the recall. We have filed official recall papers and even after the deadline is over for this recallif we are not successful the first time we are going to hound these two criminal and unconstitutional thugs with another legal and constitutional recall.

Please, help us and help Arizona, we are not associated with any politician or political group we are only associated with the U.S. Constitution.Leonard Clark623-206-2039 email: leonardclark385@hotmail.com arizonarecall.comChair of the Arizonans for the U.S. Constitution and recall of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas

TreasurerWilliam Crum602-300-8851

Annalisa Alvrus
Annalisa Alvrus

So, judges are NOT political? Judges NEVER make the wrong decisions? Judges NEVER make rulings based on political or personal biases? Judges ALWAYS make rulings pursuant to the law? Should we not expect all three branches of government to constantly check the other branches? Isn't that what our government is supposed to be doing? I usually really, really like Paul Rubin's articles, but I don't care for the pro-judiciary slant in this article. The judges are placed on the bench by the governor, and even though we "vote" to "retain" them, we get very little information about whether they really rule according to the law. And the judicial oversight commission mentioned in the article almost NEVER disciplines a superior court judge. Are all 95+ of them really such perfect employees of the citizenry? Seems awfully hard to believe.

Tony Dogs
Tony Dogs

They really need to disbar this clown. He's a disgrace.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Arpaio and Thomas, Reincarnated Hitler's.Scary.....


That's what many lawyers / judges do to deceive the public. Wolves in sheeps' clothing.


AA, Well said! Definitely agree with you. Look at the Bios of these judges on the Court roster -- wonder what the qualifications are to even be a judge, many of the resumes are slim to none.

Phoenix Concert Tickets