Quietly, away from the prying eyes of the media, things were happening.

Irvine connected Wilson with his law partner, Ed Novak, who specializes in criminal defense. Novak, one of the better lawyers in town, had previously represented Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard when Thomas tarred Goddard with a very public criminal investigation into a deal he'd made with a prominent defendant.

In the Goddard investigation, the Attorney General's Office ultimately turned over more than 70,000 pages of documents to the sheriff and county attorney, only for the probe to fall by the wayside without any charges or criminal complaints.

Presiding Court Judge Barbara Mundell met with attorney Tom Irvine on the court tower project. Judge Gary Donahoe never did, Irvine says.
courtesy of Maricopa County
Presiding Court Judge Barbara Mundell met with attorney Tom Irvine on the court tower project. Judge Gary Donahoe never did, Irvine says.
Courtesy of Maricopa County

This time, Novak decided not to play that game — and not because of what happened to Goddard, either. Novak says he was horrified that Thomas could launch a criminal inquiry into the exact same project that his team had provided legal representation on.

"I felt that my client should be offended by this," he tells New Times. "The notion that its lawyer would institute an investigation of it and issue grand jury subpoenas, when it had advised its client on the exact same issues — it's just offensive." Novak filed a motion to quash the subpoena and kick Thomas' office off the case.

Thomas argued there was an iron wall between his civil staff and his criminal team. Yet the very prosecutor issuing the subpoena — Aubuchon — had been part of the project's stakeholders committee. She'd attended numerous meetings as a deputy county attorney, including that trip to Los Angeles. And the county had relied on Thomas' staff to point out any potential problems with contracts on the project. Those were the same contracts Thomas was now subpoenaing.

Surely, that should be enough to derail the probe.

Aubuchon fired back on Thomas' behalf, raising several issues. Thomas, she claimed, had no conflict. But that wasn't true of any of the other parties involved.

The judge, Presiding Criminal Court Judge Gary Donahoe, had a conflict because he was, well, a judge. Someday he might preside over cases in the new courthouse, Aubuchon argued.

And the defense lawyers on the case had a conflict, too. Irvine's firm was representing both the court administration (on the court tower issue) and the county board of supervisors (on the subpoena issue). Wasn't that, she wrote, a conflict?

On February 6, Judge Donahoe issued his ruling.

The judge noted that he had no conflict on the case. He had no "absolutely no interest in the court tower," Donahoe wrote, "that would be affected in any way, let alone a substantial way, by this litigation."

Indeed, Donahoe, unlike Aubuchon, had never been part of the stakeholders committees for the court tower project. And while Aubuchon might claim that Irvine was technically Donahoe's lawyer, Irvine says that's not true. He was hired by the court administration. He met with Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell.

He never met with Judge Donahoe, not as his attorney.

Judge Donahoe also found that Irvine's firm didn't have a conflict. Yes, his firm represented both the court on construction issues and the county on this matter. But whether Irvine's firm had "a potential conflict of interest in representing the Board," Donahoe wrote, "is a matter between [the firm] and the Board."

Donahoe felt differently about Thomas' conflicts. He disqualified him from the case.

Thomas' deputy county attorneys had attended executive sessions where the project was discussed, he wrote. And while Thomas' lawyers kept claiming there would be an "appearance of impropriety" if Irvine's firm stayed on the case — well, Donahoe thought Thomas' conflict was much bigger. He wanted to prosecute his own client, for a matter he'd advised it on.

"It strikes the Court that any rationally thinking person would likely conclude that it appears improper for adversaries in a court proceeding to have the same lawyer," Judge Donahoe noted tartly.

"The . . . appearance of evil is present," Donahoe continued. "The Board will never believe that confidences about the court tower it shared with members of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in executive sessions, other meetings, and perhaps in the sought-after correspondence and e-mails, will not be divulged by the deputy county attorneys involved in this investigation."

Thomas spent months trying to undo that decision.

Thomas and Aubuchon filed a motion to reconsider with Judge Donahoe. Denied.

They filed a special action with the appellate court, appealing Judge Donahoe's denial. Denied again.

Bizarrely, Aubuchon even filed an appeal of the special action with the Arizona Supreme Court, claiming that — thanks to a news report on Channel 15 — she'd learned some shocking new information that the court simply needed to hear.

The news?

Tom Irvine represented both the court administration and the county board of supervisors.

"Because [Irvine's law firm] chose not to disclose its dual representation to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, the information was discovered only through a June 8, 2009, report by investigative journalist Josh Bernstein," Aubuchon claimed in her filing.

Aubuchon then attached a transcript of Bernstein's report. But, incredibly, she also attached a copy of Judge Donahoe's ruling from February — a ruling that dealt with the very issue at hand.

That ruling contradicted Aubuchon's protestations. She'd known all along that Irvine's firm represented both county and court; Judge Donahoe had ruled on that very issue and decided it wasn't a conflict.

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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?


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....


Ben from Wind Gap -- You nailed it!!


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.


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.


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.


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


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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