Power Play

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

Their intimidation tactics don't play with some county jurists but work with others with less resolve. The latter includes a judge who recently told New Times, "When I go to the criminal bench, I'm just going to try to keep my head low and hope that nobody notices me."

This source, like several others in this story, requested anonymity out of fear of retribution from the county attorney and the sheriff.

A veteran deputy county attorney tells New Times that his office's higher-ups crave whatever dirt they can get on anyone in the local judiciary.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor says judges are under attack like never before.
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor says judges are under attack like never before.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio's not so afraid of alleged death threats that he won't appear in public. Here he is at yet another media opportunity, this one in downtown Phoenix.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio's not so afraid of alleged death threats that he won't appear in public. Here he is at yet another media opportunity, this one in downtown Phoenix.

"Our supervisors continually ask us to give them examples of how judges allegedly are mistreating [us]," says the prosecutor. "They want every detail, and the newbies [in the office] are more than happy to oblige. It's ridiculous."

There have been instances in recent history when governmental branches in Maricopa County haven't gotten along, including one in the early 1990s when Judge Michael Ryan (no relation to Timothy) hauled then-County Attorney Rick Romley into court after Romley publicly revealed details of a plea bargain offered to a state legislator during the AzScam political scandal.

Ryan, who now is an Arizona Supreme Court justice, told Romley, "If I have to bring you in here again, make sure you bring your toothbrush."

But such clashes have been rare. Mostly, the powers that be at the courthouse and in the County Attorney's Office have overcome natural tensions by talking it out.

These days, communication simply doesn't occur between Andrew Thomas and the current judiciary, says everyone contacted for this story.

"Just about the only way we find out about one of their policy changes or their problems with something going on over here is through their press releases," says presiding Judge Barbara Mundell.

"It's just not healthy, and it's something I have tried several times to change, to no avail," Mundell says. "County Attorney Thomas should know that it's vital for judges not to make their decisions based on politics and public opinion, and that's not going to change."

Says Gordon Griller, a former longtime chief administrator of the Maricopa County Superior Court system, "It's obvious to anyone following the day-to-day drama in the justice system that things really are far more caustic now than ever.

"Joe [Arpaio] seems much more difficult now than he used to be. I don't know Andrew Thomas. But elected officials who just do what they're going to do when they want to do it regardless of the effect on the system . . . Well, it's hard as a citizen not to get riled up against that," adds Griller, who now consults for the National Center for State Courts.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor says, "It takes a lot of courage day by day to do the right thing, and it's so important for judges to stay firm against efforts to get them to make decisions on a political basis.

"That's not easy to do when you know it's likely that political powers will come after you if you make a decision that upholds the Constitution and interprets the law properly, but may not be what the popular opinion is at a given time."

But Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant to Andrew Thomas, claims allegations that his boss has it in for the local judiciary "are absurd and are a tempest in a teapot. We aren't in any kind of so-called attack mode against judges. We have a fine relationship with most of them."

Lotstein is the deputy county attorney who wrote in the Arizona Capitol Times last June, "There is an ever-growing list of instances in which the court has demonstrated a disregard for the will of the people."

Judge Tim Ryan, Thomas' most recent judicial target, is a former county prosecutor who worked in the office's Family Violence Unit in the 1990s and was known for his compassion for victims.

That was ancient history when then-Special Prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik filed paperwork in early October demanding that Ryan remove himself from all criminal cases involving the County Attorney's Office.

The attorney claimed the judge repeatedly had demonstrated a "bias and prejudice" against county prosecutors, especially those bringing cases against suspected illegal immigrants falling under the provisions of Proposition 100, an amendment to the Arizona Constitution that denies bail for undocumented immigrants accused of serious crimes.

A few weeks later, Wilenchik — at the behest of Thomas — added the entire county judiciary to his client's hit list, writing in court documents that he wanted to bar all 95 judges from considering the bias and prejudice motion because "Judge Ryan's personal agenda closely mirrors that of the Maricopa County Superior Court."

Overnight, Dennis Wilenchik's virulent and unsubstantiated criticisms of Ryan at the October 3 hearing became the stuff of legend, first at the courthouse and then nationally, after the Phoenix attorney imploded in the highly publicized case against New Times.

Wilenchik's courtroom rants against Judge Ryan can be viewed on YouTube.com. The State Bar of Arizona also took notice of Wilenchik's astonishing rudeness and his lack of specifics in his attack on Ryan by opening an investigation into the attorney and his financial benefactor, County Attorney Thomas.

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9 comments
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 ??

J.

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.....

anon
anon

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

anon
anon

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.

 
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