To hear Barnett Lotstein tell it, ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Peyton Thomas was willing to sacrifice his political career in order to do the right thing by going after alleged "corruption" in county government
Lotstein spun, um, testified this morning at the ongoing disciplinary hearings regarding his former boss, Thomas, and onetime deputy county attorneys Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander.
Thomas and Aubuchon face potential disbarment for a slew of alleged ethical violations. Alexander is looking at a possible suspension of her license to practice law.
Lotstein was a special assistant to Thomas whose main job for years was media spin control, something that became more ubiquitous during Thomas' second term in office and the fierce battles against the county Board of Supervisors and judiciary heated up.
Lotstein told the panel hearing the case that, in 2008, he learned that County Attorney Thomas was "looking into" possible criminal wrongdoing concerning real-estate transactions involving Board of Supervisors chairman Don Stapley, East Valley developer Conley Wolfswinkel, and Phoenix attorney Tom Irvine.
Lotstein said he advised Thomas about the "unique difficulties of prosecuting elected public officials, and that Thomas himself likely would become the focus of a defense effort to divert jurors from the facts of any such case.
The evidence would have to be "almost incontrovertible," Lotstein said he told Thomas, such as in the early 1990s prosecutions of several Arizona legislators (AzScam). Some of those elected officials were caught on videotape accepting bribes from a man who turned out to be working for law enforcement.
Lotstein told Thomas that his targets would seek retribution, no matter the outcome of the investigation and/or prosecution.
This is where violins should start playing in the background.
"His response was he didn't care," Lotstein said of Thomas. "He wasn't concerned about the politics, he was concerned about whether [Don Stapley and the other men] had broken the law."
Same went for the later-aborted racketeering civil lawsuit that Thomas and Arpaio filed in late 2009 against the county's legislative and judicial branches (naming several individuals), and others.
Lotstein claimed that the so-called RICO lawsuit was Joe Arpaio's idea, not Thomas or Aubuchon's, and that he (Lotstein) advised his boss not to be a plaintiff in the case, just a lawyer.
Lotstein said he was surprised to learn that Thomas had ignored his advice, because the racketeering suit was "doomed to defeat" unless it was unassailable.
(Note to Barnett and company: The whole political-with-a-capital-P deal was eminently assailable on just about every front, which in part is why Andy and the gang are in such hot water with the State Bar of Arizona.)
Almost as an aside, Lotstein said he had no idea if the allegations that were being tossed around about dirty county politicians, judges, lawyers and what-have-you had merit. He was just there to provide advice on the inevitable fallout of going down that road.
It felt a bit like a deja vu, Lotstein saying whatever came to him in a transparent effort to help out his guy Andy.
Maybe a part of him still hopes that Thomas will weather this silly little ethical wrongdoing storm and make a political comeback a la Richard Nixon. Then, just maybe, Thomas will repay Lotstein with yet another gig.
So, was Lotstein outright lying on the stand?
Some around the County Attorney's Office have told us in the past that the old boy lies every time he opens his mouth.
We won't go that far, but his spin sounded so flippin' vacuous.
Yes, Andy Thomas is a true believer, a zealot who lives in a world of black and white (we don't mean racially).
But Thomas also is a professional politician, and we are sure as shootin' that he and his top associates in and out of his former office discussed all aspects of what it could mean to his future by going after other elected officials and sitting judges.
Screw, by the way, the lack of evidence! (Remember Andy Thomas announcing the bust of Judge Donahoe, but being utterly unable to describe whom Donahoe had bribed or for what specific gain? Remember Rachel Alexander's recent bleatings to the disciplinary panel about getting those "smoking guns" sometime down the road?)
Hell, Thomas' scheme almost worked out for him:
He missed by a whisker (900 votes) of becoming the Republican nominee for Arizona Attorney General, an office later won by his rival Tom Horne.
And that close electoral call occurred after the Thomas/Joe Arpaio debacles involving Judge Donahoe, the bungled and bogus RICO suit, and other highly publicized, highly charged, and highly expensive (financially, personally and otherwise) issues.
Testimony is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning in the Thomas/Aubuchon/Alexander hearings.
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