Andrew Thomas is in trouble.

Facing a series of probes from the State Bar of Arizona, the county attorney has resorted to fighting back by crying "conspiracy." He's got experts opining that the Bar is on a witch hunt; he's managed to dupe the Arizona Republic into running editorials that echo their complaints.

And his campaign has worked. The Bar blinked, announcing last week that it plans to give the Thomas probe to a special investigator rather than let its in-house staff continue.

Old news, right? But here's what you don't know.

Two of Thomas' big-name experts, the guys opining that the Bar complaints are meritless, are hardly objective or independent.

Thomas hired one guy's kid for a plum job in his executive suite. The other guy, former Bar president Ernest Calderon, is even more ethically compromised: Thomas' office is one of his biggest clients.

You read it here first.

So of course Ernest Calderon thinks Thomas is getting screwed. He has to say that to keep sucking on the public teat!

But here's the kicker.

You'd never know it to read the Republic, but it turns out this fight isn't about process so much as it's about a secret file. Thomas appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, begging them to take over the investigation, in part because there's something he doesn't want you to see — something the Bar thought should be public, but that Thomas is desperate to keep hidden.

Get this: The secret file is tied to Dennis Wilenchik.

Remember him?

Thomas' former boss? Sheriff Joe Arpaio's favorite lawyer? The guy Thomas appointed "special prosecutor" in the New Times case, despite those glaring conflicts of interest, and then fired a few months later?

According to the special action Thomas filed with the Arizona Supreme Court, Dennis Wilenchik answered questions posed by the Bar's investigator. His responses totaled a staggering 63 pages; he also turned over "materials" related to his work for Thomas' office.

And Thomas is freaked about that.

Thomas' attorney, Leo Beus, acknowledges that the stuff Wilenchik turned over is a major issue. But he claims it's a matter of principle, that Thomas has to fight to keep all materials about his decision-making process hidden because, once secrecy is breached, any of the office's decisions could be subject to outside review. The stuff from Wilenchik, he claims, is nothing of interest.

"You'd be so disappointed if you read this stuff," he told me. "You wouldn't even get three lines out of it."

Beus wouldn't talk about the specifics, but here's what I could piece together based on Thomas' special action, the Bar's response, and other affidavits and documents in the public record.

Prior to filing his Hail Mary with the Supreme Court, Thomas went through a series of maneuvers to stop Wilenchik from sharing information with the Bar. First, he claimed Wilenchik was bound by attorney-client privilege — a ludicrous argument, considering that (at least in the New Times case) Wilenchik was supposedly hired because Thomas had a conflict of interest. Since when would the county attorney be a special prosecutor's client? That's like the Justice Department claiming Ken Starr had to keep its secrets.

Wilenchik must have realized just how silly this argument was, because in late January, he answered the questions — and apparently turned over some materials, too.

At that point, Thomas asked for a protective order to seal not just the materials and Wilenchik's responses, but the entire file, from public view.

When the Bar's probable-cause panelist denied that request as overly broad, Thomas went to the Arizona Supreme Court — begging the court not only to halt the Bar's investigation, but to return the "materials" provided by Wilenchik ASAP.

Again, you read it here first.

Just what, exactly, is Thomas so afraid of?

Frankly, I don't buy this "principle" business. Any time a politician is this intent on hiding documents, you know they've got to be juicy.


When Thomas' lawyers went on the offensive against the State Bar last month, they had three local experts carrying their water. Former Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Thomas Zlaket, former Arizona Attorney General Jack LaSota, and former State Bar President Ernest Calderon all filed affidavits with the Supreme Court, claiming they'd reviewed the complaints against Thomas and found no merit.

It's a prestigious list — until you dig a little deeper. Then you realize that two of the local experts have strong reasons for being biased in favor of Thomas. And that all three, at the time they wrote their affidavits, had incomplete information, at best.

Here's the details. When Thomas became county attorney in 2005, he promptly hired LaSota's son, Tim, as a special assistant. Both Jack and Tim have been longtime Thomas supporters; collectively, Father and Son LaSota and their wives have donated more than $2,000 to Thomas' campaign.

Calderon's work history is even more damning.

Both the Republic and the East Valley Tribune stupidly painted Calderon as a martyr. The former Bar president is a Democrat who doesn't approve of Thomas' immigration policies, the newspapers noted. He's never donated a dime to Thomas' campaign. Yet, after Calderon's affidavit became public, the Bar declined to reappoint Calderon as a delegate to its national convention. Boo hoo hoo.

Nowhere in the coverage was one important detail: Thomas' office has repeatedly hired Calderon.

The Calderon Law Firm is tiny — just Calderon himself and one other lawyer. Public records show that the firm has earned $231,000 working for the County Attorney's Office since Thomas took office.

Even beyond that, Thomas paid Calderon to write the affidavit! It says so right in Calderon's filing.

The guy is a paid witness, not an unbiased legal expert. (Calderon denied comment, saying that he will be an expert witness in the case — and "I don't want any more retribution from the Bar.")

This is the best Andrew Thomas could come up with?

The third expert, former Chief Justice Zlaket, doesn't appear to have any such conflicts. But there is one big hole in his conclusion that the complaints against Thomas are meritless.

Namely, Zlaket filed his affidavit before New Times even made its Bar complaint. He couldn't have been looking at the full roster of abuse that our lawyers outlined — the Bar didn't even have it yet.

Apparently, the Bar opened its own investigation into the New Times case based on information we published, namely the fact that Dennis Wilenchik, while acting as special prosecutor, attempted ex parte communication with a judge. Zlaket looked at that and decided that Thomas was off the hook. "Based on the information that I have received and reviewed, Mr. Thomas did not direct or ratify Mr. Wilenchik's conduct," Zlaket wrote.

Then, on May 1, according to the Bar's legal filing, Thomas was finally given a copy of the lengthy complaint that this newspaper filed with the Bar. That complaint didn't just deal with the ex parte meeting — it also focused on the fact that Thomas chose to appoint the sheriff's lawyer as a special prosecutor in a case in which the sheriff was the ostensible "victim." That's a clear conflict of interest.

Thomas' lawyer, Beus, says Zlaket has been updated on the latest allegations. But those allegations aren't, in fact, covered by the affidavit Zlaket filed in the case. That one, by its own admission, looks only at the ex parte issue — a small piece of what's on the table.

The sad thing is that Thomas' public relations blitz proved enough to win Round One. Scarred by Thomas' full-frontal attack on its credibility, and clearly worried about the Arizona Republic's damning coverage, the State Bar filed a response last week that defended its process — but agreed to remove both its probable-cause panelist and chief investigator from the probe.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, that means the Bar's chief counsel, Bob Van Wyck, is off the case.

An even bigger victory for Thomas: The decisions made by probable-cause panelist Alan Bayham Jr. could be subject to another person's review, should the new investigator choose to re-examine them.

That includes the decision not to seal the Wilenchik materials — and whether to pursue even more materials from Thomas. Beus says the Bar's investigator demanded more documents and work product from Thomas. "They made it clear they were never going to end [the investigation of Thomas] until we gave up all this privileged material," he says. "That's why we're here."

Ed Novak, the newly elected president of the State Bar, tells me that the "confluence of facts," rather than any missteps by Van Wyck or Bayham, led to the decision.

Having an independent investigator review the case should increase public confidence in whatever happens next, Novak says.

"Out of concern for the integrity of the process, we thought it would be best to appoint an independent investigator," he says.

That's all well and good. But does the Bar honestly think Thomas is going to be happy just because they've agreed to appoint a new investigator and a new probable cause panelist? If the Supreme Court decides to let the independent investigator finish its investigation, and the new panelist agrees that Thomas' request to seal the file is overly broad, do you think Thomas will simply accept that ruling and let the investigation run its course?

Of course not.

The Bar is right to take the ethical high road. But that is not how Andrew Thomas is playing this game.

To the Bar, this is about integrity. To Thomas, it's about winning — and somehow, despite a near- disastrous first term in office, holding onto his seat this fall.

If that means hiring lackeys to prop up his point of view, and failing to disclose their quarter-million-dollar conflict-of-interest, fine by him.

If that means giving "experts" half the story, then quoting them as if they're talking about all of it, so be it.

And if that means stalling the investigation by getting the Supreme Court to intervene, that's okay, too.

For Andrew Thomas, this is war. And he obviously thinks he can't win if we learn the truth about what happened between him and Dennis Wilenchik.

He's got something to hide. And we can be damn sure he's going to do everything in his power to make sure we don't see it. At least, not until after November.

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18 comments
Ashish Yadav
Ashish Yadav

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Jun
Jun

ed hardybuy ed hardycheap ed hardy

Nelson has  my vote
Nelson has my vote

Thomas is an arrogant out of touch elected official who has conned the uninformed public with his abuse of power. Can understand why he gets elected when you read about the racists and bigots in AZ -- a backwater state.

Thomas gives all lawyers a bad name.

JB
JB

Have you seen the article that just came out in the July/August 2008 issue of the Arizona Attorney (the pub the Bar Association puts out)? On Page 30 and 31 there are dueling pages - one by the bar's new President, Ed Novak and one by the Triumverate of Thomas' Attorneys, Dan Cracchiolo (of Burchase and Cracchiolo which handles a lot of business for Thomas AND Sheriff Arapayso), Paul Gilbert and Leo Beus. The Terrible Trio thought they had to purchase an advert page to get published (although the Bar president reminded that editorially the Bar determines what get printed either way, ads or columns submitted by members - that means you could have saved you cash boys - cash the got representing Thomas and Arpaio).

What an inflammatory ad they wrote, accusing the Bar of playing politics with this case. However, they still play hide and seek with the fact that their "experts" didn't see the New Times bar complaint and still claim that the "experts" had the full story. Nor do they explain that Mssrs. LaSota, Calderon nor Zlaket are uninterested parties in the matter (they all do business or have personal relationships with Thomas).

It's a pleasure to see these millionaires ripping apart the bar association for their own political agendas and the benefit of their clients (should Thomas get elected Governor). Gives me a lot of confidence in these attorneys, NOT.

Please update us frequently on this issue.

Pluto5469
Pluto5469

These and many other issues clearly show why Andrew Thomas has to go. Tim Nelson outlined them in his debate with Gerald Richard the other night, where he demonstrated why he is the candidate to take on and defeat Thomas in November. Tim Nelson has the legal and organizational experience to lead the county attorney's office in a new, respectable direction. That's why he's getting my vote in September.

anonymous
anonymous

Gerald Richard has the experience in working with large groups of people, has the proven ability to bring people together to find solutions to serious problems and challenges. Phoenix and Maricopa County need a County Attorney with street smarts who can the urban problems plaguing the County. We do not need a Governor's puppet, Tim Nelson, with more the of same - do nothing.

We'll vote for GERALD RICHARD FOR COUNTY ATTORNEY. Any sensible person will do the same.

Marcus
Marcus

Pouting Thomas is crying conspiracy! That's hilarious! Get this guy the hell out of office please. Vote in somebody with character like Tim Nelson.

Mark
Mark

Its ironic Thomas chose Beus as his attorney. Mr. Beus has a horrible reputation in the legal community. Looks like he is continuing where he left off when he previously hired and fired Wilenchik.

Hopefully Maricopa County residents have learned their lesson in elected Thomas but I doubt it.

anonymous
anonymous

Wow! Great investigative work. This article could also be titled "FOLLOW THE MONEY'. You sure are finding answers for a group of us following your outstanding series on abuse of power. We need to get these corrupt officials out of power. For starters -- VOTE FOR GERALD RICHARD FOR COUNTY ATTORNEY!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Sarah, great investigative work! Hope this is passed on to the national media so they have the "other" side to the PR releases Thomas has given them previously.

Will certainly be voting for GERALD RICHARD for County Attorney so he can start to clean up the mess of the last four years and the corruption. We need a seasoned leader for the County Attorney's office and prosecutors trained in handling complex cases where defendants are facing decades behind bars. GERALD RICHARD understands how to bring people together to solve problems and create unity, which is something that Thomas, Arpaio and Russell Pearce do not understand. Enough destruction and division in Maricopa County and the state.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

If a lawyer was held to the same standard as a doctor, nurse, teacher, coach, principal, or superintendent, Andrew Thomas would lose his job immediately and questions asked later. He is in the highest position of public trust in the County and can no longer be trusted. What is it going to take for this County Attorney to step down. He's failed his supervisory capacity, turned on officials out of his jurisdiction, refused to acknowledge mistakes made by inexperienced prosecutors in his office after he replaced all the prosecutors in 2005. There are serious cases with people being sent away for decades and not only are his prosecutors inexperienced, so is Thomas. Those who have enabled him and remained silent are also complicit. If the person in the car who did nothing when someone else shot and killed someone, they also face decades behind bars. The laws these officials put in place should be used against Thomas and his prosecutors and those who enabled them. Enough is enough of their abuse of power and reign of terror in the state of Arizona.

Remaining Vigilant
Remaining Vigilant

We have had enough of the corruption in the County and the State of Arizona, the staged, media-circus events, witch-hunts, media convictions, hatred and bigotry that Arpaio, Thomas and their legislative side-kick, Russell Pearce, have created and perpetuated. Multimillion dollar lawsuits and a blank check for Arpaio and Andrew Thomas LEGAL FEES PAID FOR BY TAXPAYERs is simply unacceptable and outrageous! The average person can no longer afford to pay for their own legal fees much less those of abusive elected officials. Abuse of power against the people must be stopped. A County Attorney and Sheriff investigating State offices, rendering those officials ineffective -- we need a road map to sort through the litigation Arpaio and Thomas have taken the taxpayers in their effort to tie up the county and state.

This tyranny and reign of terror on the community must end. Enough is enough!

WE ARE CONSERVATIVES WHO WILL VOTE FOR CHANGE.

WE WILL VOTE FOR GERALD RICHARD FOR COUNTY ATTORNEY AND DAN SABAN FOR SHERIFF

Jackson1951
Jackson1951

Gerald Nelson does not have adequate experience. Vote for me instead, Tim Nelson, nelson2008.com. I'm the better candidate.

barb850
barb850

This is exactly why we need Gerald Richard as Maricopa County Attorney. With 22 years of criminal justice experience, Gerald's integrity is unquestioned. He owes nothing to any law firm, nor to any elected official such as the Governor.

Gerald Richard is the right choice to clean up the corrupt cesspool that is the Maricopa County Attorney's Office under Andrew Thomas.

Coz
Coz

As always, GREAT JOB Sarah....Keep it up !

Coz
Coz

Arizona, what a corrupt piece of shit State this place is...

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Sarah, outstanding public service to have the courage to shed the light on the inner workings of the County Attorney and the Arizona Bar and the courts. You should win a Pulitzer Prize for your coverage and attention to this very disturbing situation in Maricopa County and the state of Arizona.

 
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