They ultimately took action. At the meeting, the supervisors approved the hiring of Tom Irvine, an attorney with Polsinelli Shughart. Irvine, who'd successfully helped the supervisors defend an earlier lawsuit, would help them understand the lay of the land.

Ultimately, Irvine's hiring would be the board's first step in dismantling much of the county attorney's civil division. Believing they could no longer trust Thomas to provide legal advice, the board — with Irvine's help — began to take steps to set up its own office of legal counsel.

And so it hardly seems a coincidence that, just one week after the board hired Irvine, a sheriff's deputy approached Wilson and served her with a subpoena.

Chief Deputy Sheriff David Hendershott
Courtesy of Maricopa County
Chief Deputy Sheriff David Hendershott
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox checks out new courthouses in Philadelphia and New York
Courtesy of Maricopa County
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox checks out new courthouses in Philadelphia and New York

The request demanded records from the county related to the court tower project: contracts, procurement records, and more. It was surely tens of thousands of pages of documents.

So much for what Hendershott had assured Wilson just a few days earlier. This wasn't about the board or the county manager or the other county supervisors? Just one week after Hendershott's assurance, the entire county administration was suddenly under criminal investigation!

When Wilson was served the court tower subpoena, she hardly knew which way to turn. The timing couldn't be worse: Her boss, County Manager Smith, was out on sick leave. (Smith's medical issues were so serious, he ultimately missed three months of work.) On this issue, the buck would stop with Wilson.

And the sheriff's deputy had instructed Wilson not to talk to anyone about it. Under Arizona law, even targets of a grand jury investigation may not publicly discuss the matters at hand. Wilson, surely, remembered what had happened when the owners of New Times dared to defy that edict just one year earlier; sheriff's deputies famously arrested them at their home under the cover of night.

Wilson wanted none of that. But she needed legal advice.

At that point, it's fair to say, Wilson still didn't quite realize just how adversarial the county's relationship with County Attorney Andrew Thomas had become. Wilson was so naive, she actually e-mailed Thomas' office, asking for help on how to handle the subpoena that his own prosecutors had issued.

No one wrote back.

Wilson wasn't even sure she was allowed to tell the supervisors: Weren't they potential targets?

That's when she thought of Tom Irvine. Wilson knew Irvine, a construction attorney, had been the court administration's go-to guy for the tower project.

Perhaps more importantly, the board of supervisors had just hired Irvine to help it deal with Thomas' conflicts of interests. Who better to ask for help?


It's safe to say that you shouldn't ask Tom Irvine about construction unless you really, really want to know about construction.

For one thing, Irvine is a talker. Even though he's soft-spoken, he has a lot to say. For another, he's a design enthusiast at heart.

Irvine has been involved with some of downtown Phoenix's bigger construction projects. He represented the city of Phoenix in the construction of Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field). And, as chairman of the Citizens Committee on jail planning, he shepherded the county, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, through the construction of the Fourth Avenue Jail.

That project led almost directly to the court tower. As Irvine explains, when voters approved funding for the new jail, they also approved fine print that would move the entire criminal court system downtown. It only made sense.

Until recently, some criminal cases were tried in Mesa and some were tried downtown. Two locations meant extra expenses for security — what with both courthouses needing deputies — and, in the case of the Mesa trials, extra transportation costs. With inmates held at the Fourth Avenue Jail, the county could save money by holding all court hearings right next door.

But the downtown court complex was already bursting at the seams. So the county saved its money, axed other projects when necessary, and focused intently on building a new courthouse.

By 2006, they were ready to go. And just as Irvine had been hired to handle the fine print on the jails, he was hired to coordinate a key aspect of the new court tower's design and development process.

The big difference? This time, he was hired by the county judiciary: Even though the county is funding the project, Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell and her staff are technically in charge of approving and developing the design, function and operations of the new building. Consultants had provided the same service for Arpaio during jail construction; Mundell's staff selected Irvine.

Now, the court staff doesn't typically need attorneys who specialize in construction. Jessica Funkhouser, the court's special counsel, says that state law allows court staff to take advantage of other government entities' bidding process in cases like this. Irvine's firm had submitted qualifications for construction work through the city of Phoenix's competitive process. Piggybacking on the city's contract, the courts could hire Polsinelli Shughart at the same rate.

Irvine was hired in 2006 at an hourly rate of $325, according to court administration files.

It was only two years later, in December 2008, that his hiring would become an issue.

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14 comments
Mike Powell
Mike Powell

I have always thought that the use of marijuana was illegal in Arizona, however it seems that our City/County officials have been partaking liberally. Seriously, how does one graduate from Law school ( I assume Mr. Thomas did so ) and not know that you can't have it both ways? Also, rgtqwhere is the evidence of wrongdoing? Isn't application of the law based on facts and evidence, or is it just the whim of a disgruntled attorney?

FromAfar
FromAfar

correction to above: Ben you sent a mixed message. Note, I was speaking about the court tower. Thomas and Arpaio abuse of power has overcrowded the courts, the jails and the prisons -- therefore a Court Tower is needed. It's a result of the mass incarceration of Arizona's people by Thomas, Arpaio and Sen. Russell Pearce who writes the bills for them.

Abuse of power reigns terror over the state and the Troika needs to be sent to the prisons they created -- now all privatized. Follow the money....

FromAfar
FromAfar

Ben from Wind Gap -- You nailed it!!

Ben
Ben

Apparently there is a need for more court space because of the illegal immigration influx coupled with the rising event of home grown crime which will get worse as the economy gets worse. Therefore it doesn�t make sense to cut the sheriff and other enforcement budgets unless you are trying to slowdown the enforcement of the laws that is keeping the immigration and other law enforcement problems from sprawling into a problem that will consume even more of the budget along, property values, school cost and general quality of life.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

clarification: They prey on the ignorant masses to get re-elected, while taking down those who challenge them, the intelligent and brightest in Maricopa County.

Arizona needs to add Civics classes in the school and learn about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and how to protect themselves from abuse of power by a government that is out of control.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Outstanding investigative reporting! Sarah, you certainly captured the essence of what corruption looks like in Maricopa County. They prey on the ignorant masses.

j.WINSTON
j.WINSTON

Arpiao and Thomas are jokes..but they are dangerous jokes as they can wield the judicial system like a weapon...when will the public figures in our county and state get the courage to expose them for what they are follow-up with legal proceedings for all their scandals...why is everyone so scared. We are a major city not a back water town where the judge and the prosecutor and the sheriff are all half brothers.Hopefully Thomas will run in the primaries and lose and that way we will get him out of office early. And hopefully Arpaio wil finally be found guilty on at least one of the numerous abuses he has perpetrated only the citizens of Maricopa..I agree with one of the other comments..it is Twilight Zone or rather Reason Free Zone

(S)He's a very manipulative ma
(S)He's a very manipulative ma

a)Wilson about Hendershottb)Sheila Polk and Don Stapley about Arpaioc)Supervisors,Tom Irvine about Thomasd)Judge Donhue and Ed Novak about Ms. Aubuchoune) all of the above.The correct answer is e) all of the above. Hendershott, Arpaio, Thomas, and Lisa Aubuchoun (who acts like a man)are all manipulative as hell. VOTERS wake up. Thomas wants to bring this nonsense to the entire state.

Pete Snow
Pete Snow

Alexander doesn't have time to do her job, she is too busy blogging about the Tower over on the Sonoran Alliance Blog.

Spartacus
Spartacus

Every Time I drive up to Phoenix from Cochise County I expect to see Rod Serling standing along I-10 in a dark suit, looking slightly sinister and mischevious,with cigarette smoke swirling around him. (all in black and white, of course)Mr. Serling, if he were alive today, could doubtless offer a witty and sardonic discourse on Maricopa County that enable wannabe dictators to trample on the constitution and intimidate all who disagree with them, he might say, "You are now entering the valley of the delusional, where political sorcerers practice the black arts of race-baiting and character assassination. It's a Bizarre, Never-Never Land of snake oil politics and strutting demogauges, otherwise known as...THE TWILIGHT ZONE...

Mike Wells
Mike Wells

Whoo Hoo!!

I'm comin' back Arizona!! I'll be the next Maricopa County Attorney, since you obviously don't need to know the law to get the job.

Either that, or Thomas is playing everybody for the fool here. Here seriously didn't think that having his office both prosecute and defend THE SAME CASE would be a conflict of interest? Seriously? And then he thinks he can bring up a judge on charges, citing conflict of interest because that same judge 'might someday have an office in the new court building'? You have GOT to be kidding me.

Add in all the lying they've been caught doing in court and I can't understand why this case is even being allowed to continue.

Arpaio and Thomas are two of the reasons that I'm glad I got out of Arizona, but the politicians here in Utah are pretty nutty, too, so it's not really a total win in my book.

Lisa
Lisa

Who is this scumbag Bernstein? Aren't journalists supposed to have some kind of standards?

Marcy
Marcy

The sad thing about this entire sordid affair is that it has exposed just how delusional a large segment of Maricopa County voters are.

They'd vote for a rabid serial killer if the serial killer promised to arrest a few illegal immigrants.

They utterly fail to understand what history has taught us, tyrants come into power not by guns but with the full blessing of a deluded populace.

 
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