Andrew Thomas’ Battle Against Spanish-Language DUI Probation Has Cost Us a Half-Million Dollars. But Who's Counting?

Four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars ago, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas filed suit to stop the county's Spanish-language program for DUI offenders.

You've probably heard little, if anything, about the case since Thomas' initial media blitz, when he argued that providing probation services in Spanish somehow violated the Constitution.

But while the county attorney hasn't held a press conference to publicize his string of failures, rest assured: Those failures have indeed occurred.

The problem? Thomas was trying to stop a great program that doesn't even come close to presenting a constitutional issue. Naturally, the program's supporters have beat him time and again. After a series of rulings by judges from here to California, Thomas' logic is in tatters — and his lawyers look like idiots.

Indeed, barring a last-minute intervention from the highest court in the land, the Spanish DUI program will almost certainly survive. So much for Thomas' bombast in 2005. (Yes, he did say that the program was "discrimination in its starkest form." And, yes, he did cite Brown v. Board of Education — as if offering services in a language other than English is somehow akin to dooming black children to crumbling schools.)

Really, in many ways, Thomas' handling of this case is indicative of his tenure as county attorney. He'll grandstand, file a frivolous suit, and hire expensive outside lawyers to handle the litigation. Then he'll stand by while those attorneys run up their billable hours. Hey, it's not like he's getting stuck with the bill — he's got us taxpayers for that.

Then, he loses. And loses again. This case has every one of the elements:

Frivolous suit against a worthy program? Check.

Pricey lawyers based in Washington, D.C.? Check.

Loss after loss after loss? Triple check!

First, Thomas' lawyers lost in district court in February 2007. They appealed that, only to have a three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rule against them this past July. They recently appealed a second time, asking the entire bank of appellate judges to reconsider the case.

It would have taken just one judge skeptical of the panel's decision to reopen the case. But Thomas couldn't even get that. On October 15, the bank of judges denied his appeal, too.

Now, Thomas has only one option left — a Hail Mary to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I'm surely not alone in hoping he quits now. Public records I obtained from the county show that the case has already cost taxpayers $498,690.

Ouch.

What makes it even worse: This was no hard-fought legal battle, with a trial and all the attendant expenses. Thomas' suit didn't even make it to a pre-trial hearing. The judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll, bounced the suit out of court before anyone took a single deposition. Yes, Thomas chose to appeal Carroll's ruling, twice, but the lawyers managed to ring up a half-million dollars in billings on a case that saw just a single day in court.

Most of that comes from the lawyers on Thomas' side.

The county contracted with local firm Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre & Friedlander to defend the court program. Taxpayers are on the hook for its work, too, so it's good that Mariscal, Weeks' bill was just $137,063, public records show.

But Thomas couldn't just sue the court system using the hard-working attorneys who've devoted their lives to the County Attorney's Office — or even an attorney at a respected local firm who'd be thrilled with the chance to tackle an interesting constitutional issue.

No, Thomas had to have the best. And so he contracted with the firm Jones, Day — a Washington, D.C.-based behemoth that your grandfather might have described as "white shoe." And by that, he would have meant "really ridiculously expensive."

Jones, Day rang up $361,626 in billings without ever making a coherent argument against the program in question.

And that doesn't even count the billings from the firm's local co-counsel. Dennis Wilenchik, the failed special prosecutor who made such a mess of the New Times investigation two years ago, was brought in by Thomas to work this case, too. It's unclear whether his involvement cost taxpayers on top of the Jones, Day bills. I looked through five years of Wilenchik's billings to the county and couldn't find any itemized for this case.

But I doubt he worked for free. Wilenchik has billed the county for $3.9 million since Thomas took office, records show — more than half of it after Thomas "fired" him as a special prosecutor.

Indeed, prior to the Board of Supervisors' wresting control of civil work from Thomas' office earlier this year, the costs for outside lawyers just kept going up.

In 2007 and 2008, Thomas managed to spend $16 million and $13 million on outside counsel, according to county records. That's a 124 percent increase over what Rick Romley spent on outside lawyers during his final two years in office.

Not coincidentally, the same law firms that were making big bucks handling legal work for Thomas' office are the ones who donated big bucks to his campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

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12 comments
Hank Hill
Hank Hill

I love how these right-wing conservatives are all for blowing big dollars when it comes to testing the constitution on some bullshit principle of theirs but if the cash involves actually helping someone they'd rather chew on glass.

My friend put it best yesterday, so long as the ignorant conservative blue hairs in Sun City and Sun Lakes keep voting we're ALL fucked.

Mari
Mari

It's time or Andrew Thomas to attend Law school. Maybe he can get into night school if he studies hard.

Wake up Arizona and Tourists!
Wake up Arizona and Tourists!

correction: 'Wake up Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau. You have failed to give full disclosure on what the Hell is going on in Arizona. And we WILL sue you for failing to give full disclosure of warning people about MCSO and MCAO, the DUI laws -- where first offense will cost someone a minimum of $10,000 not to mention going straight to jail, losing their jobs, hiring the corrupt DUI attorneys who collect full fees up front that are often $50,000 then let you wait it out, on the eve of the trial coerce a "plea bargain" and you move on to the next lawyers."

Scottsdales billionaires/millionaires who profit from Taser, Photoradar and surveillance contracts that are destroying peoples' lives and the future of the state, as they contribute to the "prison and military state" Arizona has become. There is no other industry but those with government jobs or those who are going after the people for their money.

I F..ing hate Arizona. It represents the worst of America!

Wake up Arizona and Tourists!
Wake up Arizona and Tourists!

Plain and simple -- Thomas and Arpaio have taken control of the government and the state of Arizona. F... their supporters! This is nothing more than a Junta like a Third World dictatorship. Wake up Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau. You have failed to give full disclosure on what the Hell is going on in Arizona. And we sue you for failing to give full disclosure of warning people about MCSO and MCAO. The DUI laws -- where first offense will cost someone a minimum of $10,000 not to mention going straight to jail, losing their jobs, hiring the corrupt DUI attorneys who collect full fees up front that are often $50,000 then let you wait it out, on the eve of the trial coerce a "plea bargain" and you move on to the next lawyers. The AZ Bar protects these lawyers who profit from bad legislation and vote for Thomas.

Fire County Attorney Thomas who belongs in prison for abuse of power but has total immunity and send Sheriff Arpaio off to his own jail created for criminals like himself. Enough is enough of these corrupt officials and those who pull their strings and sit on the sidelines -- you are complicit and need to pick up the legal tab for what they have cost the taxpayers. I don't know anyone who voted these criminals into power and these people don't know anyone either -- so go after SCA -- where's the 24/7 grandstanding on that, MCAO Thomas, Lisa Auchubon, Rachel Alexander, and fellow cohorts??

AZJayMan
AZJayMan

Why the hell is this blockhead still county attorney?!?

Does he realize that we are a freakin cash strapped state?!?(We are $3,300,000,000 in the RED!)

Does he realize that Maricopa County has LIMITED resources?!?

Has he seen the US national debt?!? (12,000,000,000,000+ and counting)

Andrew Thomas needs to leave public office FOREVER and EVER.

He should be stripped of his privilege to practice law in Arizona or ANY OTHER state.

What a waste of valuable, limited taxpayer money

William Crum
William Crum

Sarah, I would like say the article was brillant but we are talking about Thomas. How did he get his law degree because common sense alone would show the public how wrong he is. This man is wanting to be the State Attorney General: Lord have mercy on our souls if this happens because we can't afford to go back in history anymore.

Marcy
Marcy

Candy Andy is utterly incompetent. Thus his need to find a new elected office to milk.

He recently sued a variety of people, including judges. Is is fundamental law that you can not sue a judge for anything that has ANYTHING to do with his job as a judge. A judge can threaten to send you to prison if you don't pay him a bribe and if you sue the judge the case WILL be dismissed.

Yet Candy Andy sues just the same.

He is a fool but not nearly as big a fool as the people who elect him.

Coz
Coz

Unreal....

What a fucking bozo Candy Ass Thomas truly is.

The idots in Maricopa County that voted this moron should have to start paying for all this bullshit out of their own personal pockets, not the rest of the tax payers that were smart enough not to vote for this total jerk off.

Chad Snow
Chad Snow

Great work, Sarah. New Times figured out that $42,000,000.00 (and counting) was the price of Arpaio's cruelty. It would be interesting to total the amount of taxpayer dollars that Thomas has wasted in legal fees to outside counsel, misuse of MSAO resources, and other ancillary costs to the county on his various witchhunts against political rivals. My firm represented one of the Defendants arrested at the Board of Supervisors meeting and we were shocked at the amount of County resources that Thomas was willing to throw at one stupid misdemeanor count. This misallocation of resources endangers public safety and should make Maricopa County voters absolutely opposed to letting Thomas take his circus act statewide.

STOP ANDREW THOMAS POLITICAL C
STOP ANDREW THOMAS POLITICAL C

Andrew Thomas is a bad lawyer, a bad adminstrator, a bad leader, and too self absorbed to realize anything is wrong.The mis management of public funds is a serious issue. When this man steps down next month and announces he is running for Attorney General. We as the voting public must stop themadness and save the rest of the stae from the antics of Andrew Thomas. All good dictatorships must come to an end.Andrew Thomas is above it all. Please help us end this man's career. He is dangerous and the veil of illegal immigration is old and worn out.

Out with Thomas!
Out with Thomas!

Sarah, great job in pulling all the facts together on Maricopa County Andrew Thomas. His abuse of power and the taxpayers is beyond the pale!

JJ
JJ

One has to wonder why Thomas, head of the largest law firm in Arizona, still feels the need to outsource complex litigation. For the half-million bucks in litigation expense tied he has lavished on this losing and immoral proposition, it is difficult for me to believe that Thomas could not have done this same litigation internally.

 
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