I'm beginning to think Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery should enroll in some remedial law classes.
That's because now a superior court judge has agreed with an administrative law judge that Montgomery's office messed up the campaign finance case against Attorney General Tom Horne and his outreach director Kathleen Winn.
See also: -Arizona AG Tom Horne's Sex Scandal Scuttles Gubernatorial Bid -Bill Montgomery Screws Up Tom Horne Complaint, Judge Recommends Dismissal -Bill Montgomery Believes Law He's Enforcing Against Tom Horne Is Unconstitutional -Tom Horne's Snakepit, Bill Montgomery's Dirty Money, and the Problem with Carmen Chenal
See, in March, Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer ruled that Montgomery lacked authority in the case. Due process was not followed, the judge said. And the matter should be dismissed.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge John Rea agreed with the ALJ, finding that the law backed the argument proffered by lawyers for Horne and Winn that Montgomery lacked jurisdiction in the case.
Essentially, Montgomery should not have been involved, Rea found, and should not have ordered Horne and Winn to pay back some $500,000 contributed to an independent expenditure committee that Winn ran in the 2010 general election.
The allegation is that there was coordination between Winn's IE and Horne, which is a no-no under state law -- a law, which, ironically, Montgomery believes to be unconstitutional.
In 2012, Montgomery's office joined the FBI in a wide-ranging probe of the AG's office begun the year before. The U.S. Attorney's Office chose not to bring charges, and Monty declined to pursue criminal charges as well.
Instead, Montgomery referred the matter to Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who sent it back to Montgomery, saying that there was probable cause that campaign finance laws had been broken.
Montgomery then ordered Winn and Horne to pay back the contributors to Winn's IE.
But Arizona law (A.R.S. 16-924) specifically states that, "the secretary of state shall notify the attorney general for a violation regarding a statewide office or the legislature."
The AG would then have to declare a conflict of interest and farm the case out to another prosecutor.
The MCAO argued that the obvious conflict and a new statute allowed Bennett to go directly to Monty. But Rea wasn't buying.
"Going through the seemingly formalized dance of the Secretary referring the matter to the Attorney General and the Attorney General recusing himself and the matter going to another agency is not senseless or meaningless," wrote Rea.
"The fact that observance of the express statutory procedure would require a few extra steps in these circumstances does not justify simply abandoning it...Ignoring a clear statute for the sake of expediency means that we are no longer under a rule of law but the rule of some official or court's notion of convenience and practicality."
In other words, Monty has to do what the law says, even if it is not expedient.
Monty told the Arizona Republic that he would not appeal the ruling, as it only would mean more delay.
"In my judgment, it is more important for the issues in this case to be fully and fairly addressed and resolved as soon as possible so that the people of Arizona can determine whether or not a statewide law enforcement official violated the law," stated Monty.
Translation: Yeah, I effed up. So sue me.
Montgomery is sending the case back to Bennett's office. SOS spokesman Matt Roberts stated that the SOS "will comply with the judge's order."
Which means Horne will be able to toss the ball to his own hand-picked prosecutor.
The sound you hear is the broom sweeping this travesty under the carpet.
When I caught up with Winn, she was pleased with the decision, though she conceded that she and Horne may just have won the latest round in an ongoing battle.
"I'm okay with it going on, because I'm more than happy to present the facts," she told me. "The best thing that happened is that we agreed that the law should be followed. And the law also applies to county attorneys. And if they don't follow the law, or they make it up, they get disbarred."
That dig is, of course, a reference to Monty's predecessor, disbarred, disgraced ex-county attorney Andy Thomas, who is currently trying to channel Buford T. Pusser while running for governor.
"Montgomery didn't like the [medical] marijuana law," kvetched Winn. "He has a way of handling things the doesn't like, which is inappropriate. This is a political drive-by, and I was an innocent victim."
Thing is, if it was a drive-by, it was one where Horne supplied the gun and ammo.
The FBI's probe of Horne was the result of an internal investigation Horne stupidly ordered to ferret out who was leaking info to me about Horne's alleged mistress, Assistant Attorney General Carmen Chenal, who had scored a six figure salary in Horne's administration, despite a checkered legal career.
AG investigator Meg Hinchey uncovered the allegations against Winn and Horne, among others, and ended up turning them over to the FBI, because she feared Horne was planning to deep six her case file or destroy it.
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Hinchey is suing Horne for retaliation, and Horne faces a bar complaint regarding the scandal. There's also a misdemeanor criminal case pending against Horne in Phoenix city court due to the now-infamous (alleged) fender bender FBI agents witnessed in the parking lot of Chenal's apartment, after the pair stopped for takeout from a nearby Pita Jungle.
I'm on record as stating that I doubt Horne ever will face much of a sanction, if any.
Yet, the scandal has ended Horne's gubernatorial career, and left him bleeding as he prepares to fight for reelection next year.
I would be tempted to say that Horne's comeuppance awaits him in 2014, save that this is Arizona, and voters here seem more than willing to swallow the rancid fruit borne of Sand Land's rotten tree.