A judge on Wednesday cleared the way for a court hearing next week that will have county attorneys Andrew Thomas and Sheila Polk answering questions by Mary Rose Wilcox's lawyer.
Thomas' office had tried to quash the compelled testimony, but Pima County Judge John Leonardo wouldn't hear of it.
"The court finds that the testimony of Mr. Thomas and of Ms. Polk is relevant and material to the issues raised by defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Indictment and Disqualify the County Attorney..." Leonardo wrote in his ruling today.
The hearing is set for February 16.
With luck, we'll hear -- first-hand -- why Thomas demanded to regain control of the criminal cases involving Wilcox and another Supervisor, Don Stapley. And we may hear Polk go into detail about her negative experiences in dealing with the offices of Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
As most of you know, Wilcox is the Maricopa County Supervisor under indictment on a raft of felony charges related to her alleged failure to disclose loans she received from a Hispanic social service agency. Last year, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas forwarded the investigation of Wilcox to his counterpart in Yavapai County, Polk, along with the criminal case of another Supervisor, Don Stapley.
While Yavapai was contemplating what to do with the investigations, which had been conducted by the Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office, Thomas apparently got antsy. As Polk explained to us for our November article on Stapley, Thomas decided to take all those cases back to Maricopa. His office is moving forward with the prosecutions while Thomas seeks to hire pricey special prosecutors.
After Wilcox was indicted, her attorney -- former Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Judge Colin Campbell -- filed a motion to disquality Thomas as the prosecutor. But then, in December, Sheila Polk wrote her stunning letter to the Arizona Republic that skewered Thomas and Arpaio.
Shrewdly, Campbell decided to drag Polk into the case to help his client.
"My discomfort grew daily and my role in restraining potential abuses of power increasingly more difficult," Polk wrote of her relationship with Thomas and Arpaio. "I am conservative and passionately believe in limited government, not the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes."
Campbell tells New Times tonight he's very curious to learn from Polk precisely what "potential abuses of power" she believes may have occurred.
He wants to learn every detail that led to Polk's returning the cases to Thomas. Part of Campbell's argument is that once Thomas gave the cases to Yavapai County, he should not have been allowed to take them back.
Campbell also wants to grill Thomas about his bias against Wilcox -- and how those feelings should keep his office from being her criminal prosecutor.
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Campbell points out that the federal RICO lawsuit filed against Wilcox and other high-profile defendants states that the defendants tried to have Thomas disbarred and had threatened to make his wife pay some legal fees.
"We're arguing that someone with a personal interest in the case cannot be a prosecutor," says Campbell.
We're somewhat pessimistic that Polk will take her criticism to a new, unexpected level. She's apparently been unwilling to expound on the letter since December. Perhaps she's been worried that, as in her office's case against motivational speaker James Earl Ray, commenting too much might taint the local jury pool. If she's got juicy details that demonstrate the kind of "totalitarianism" of which she warns in her letter, the ramifications could go far beyond the Wilcox and Stapley cases. It could be more fodder for the rumored federal investigation into Arpaio's alleged abuses of power, for example.
The best part of the upcoming hearing might just be watching how Thomas, a political demogogue of a county attorney with almost no trial experience, handles himself in a courtroom debate.