By that point, everything had changed. Arpaio and Thomas were angry about their budgets and at war with the supervisors. And Irvine had been hired by the county supervisors (who were Thomas' Public Enemy Number One) to help the board set up its own legal department (one of the worst things that could happen to Thomas, professionally speaking).

At that point, Thomas' go-to prosecutor for high-profile cases, Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon, would actually claim in court filings that the method of Irvine's procurement might be a criminal matter. (It didn't seem to matter that state law expressly allowed such contracts.) And Thomas' favorite reporter, Channel 15's Bernstein, would make an issue of the "piggybacked" contracts — as if "piggybacking" were an inherently dirty practice.

Neither Thomas' spokesman nor Bernstein responded to messages seeking comment.

County Manager David Smith
Courtesy of Maricopa County
County Manager David Smith
Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson
Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson

In 2006, though, no one questioned Irvine's hiring. For two years, in fact, everyone involved with the court tower project got along fine.

Surprisingly, that even included Arpaio and Thomas.

Court officials were eager to get a building that worked, Funkhouser says. Previous additions to the court system were done on the cheap, and it showed. (The Northeast Court Complex, for example, can't hold trials involving 12-person juries; the jury rooms are simply too small.)

"If we were going to build it, we wanted to build it right," she says.

So the court didn't just hire an architect and a lawyer to oversee the project. It also put together a stakeholders group, which included everyone who'd be using the new building: judges, prosecutors, sheriff's deputies, victim advocates, even the media.

Naturally, both Thomas and Arpaio had representatives on the committee. Thomas' representative was the prosecutor he turned to for high-profile cases, Aubuchon. Arpaio was represented by his top deputy, Hendershott.

When members of the advisory board were given an opportunity to check out similar projects in other states, Thomas and Arpaio's reps jumped at it. Hendershott went to Philadelphia to see its new courthouse, as did Thomas' chief assistant, Sally Wells. Aubuchon flew to Los Angeles to check out the court facilities there.

Irvine didn't go on any of the junkets. He could already see the projects, he says, in his head.

But he was at plenty of meetings, along with Aubuchon. Sign-in sheets, which New Times obtained through a public-records request, prove Irvine's attendance as a representative of the court. Aubuchon signed in as a county attorney.

Minutes show plenty of back-and-forth between the parties.

Funkhouser, the court's on-staff special counsel, says that Aubuchon was intent on the idea of the courthouse's not housing "restorative justice" programs: "That was being 'too soft on criminals,'" Funkhouser says. Aubuchon's view ultimately prevailed.

As both Irvine and Funkhouser recall, however, the meetings were congenial. Aubuchon never attempted to block the project from going forward. And the County Attorney's Office signed off on all the contracts. No concerns were raised, County Manager Smith says.

Later, Thomas would try to raise hell about the grandeur of the building. His representatives would wax on about how the judges would get fancy-sounding "robing rooms." Or they'd talk about the expensive materials being used, like marble or travertine.

But minutes show that Thomas' staff, including Aubuchon, who ostensibly had his ear, didn't make a similar stink during stakeholder meetings. Irvine and Funkhouser say that's with good reason.

"This is not a fancy building," Irvine says. The presiding judge decreed that no component of the project could cost more than the median price of that component in other recently built courthouses. That meant functional, durable materials designed to last 100 years.

Indeed, a look at the plans shows few of the luxuries that Thomas and his sock puppets keep alleging.

Consider the much-maligned "robing rooms." Despite the ceremonial-sounding name, they're really a way to save space.

In the old courthouse, judges have extensive chambers and private bathrooms next to their courtrooms. In the new building, they'll get a tiny closet of a room adjoining the courtroom, just enough for a laptop and a coat rack for their robes. Their offices — and shared bathrooms — will be located in a suite upstairs.

Thomas' claims about marble and travertine are equally disingenuous.

Court officials, Irvine, and county administrators tell New Times they have no idea where the marble came from: It simply isn't part of the plans.

And as for the travertine . . .

While the name sounds fancy, it's actually far from. Travertine is one of the stones used most frequently in modern construction.

A curious reader need only travel to the county's current East Court Building, part of the drab functional complex on Jefferson Street, to get an eyeful of that construction material.

The entire lobby of the 1965 building is walled in, yes, travertine.


When Sandi Wilson turned to Tom Irvine to help her deal with the court tower subpoena in December 2008, she had no idea she was setting off a powder keg.

For a while, no one else did, either. Not the press, not the court administration, not the superior court judges. Grand juries are supposed to be secret, and this one actually stayed that way.

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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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