That was fast.
Just one short week after he was appointed to be a special investigator, charged with probing Bar complaints into Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, J. Scott Rhodes has withdrawn from the task.
The news came in a written statement from the Arizona Supreme Court this afternoon. The court had appointed Rhodes, an attorney at Jennings Strouss, after the State Bar of Arizona asked its help in identifying an impartial special investigator.
But Thomas' people quickly sought to paint Rhodes as conflicted. Thomas' attorney, Ernest Calderon, claimed that the fact that Rhodes had done work for the county Board of Supervisors and donated $390 to Thomas' opponent was enough to give him a conflict of interest.
Legal experts -- including ASU's well-respected Jonathan Rose -- disagreed. But the allegation was apparently enough to cause Rhodes to withdraw.
It's too bad, because Rhodes has a great reputation as a good, tough counselor. And we find it hard to believe that Andrew Thomas will be happy with anyone appointed to this task -- unless, say, it's Dennis Wilenchik. (Okay, maybe he'd be okay with Jack McIntyre ... or Lisa Aubuchon.)
But we also understand that this battle is increasingly being fought in the court of public relations, and Rhodes, however impressive his qualifications, didn't seem ready to play that kind of game. Thomas began raising hell on Day One, and with no real rebuttal, at that point, the "appearance" of a conflict became the media narrative.
Here's a statement from the Arizona Supreme Court:
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The Chief Justice selected Scott Rhodes to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct by Mr. Thomas, because Mr. Rhodes is a well-respected and knowledgeable expert in the field of attorney discipline. The Chief Justice believes Mr. Rhodes would have conducted a fair and unbiased investigation. However, after a meeting recently convened by Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch with Mr. Rhodes and legal counsel representing County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Mr. Rhodes chose to withdraw as special counsel because of the objections raised to his appointment and to avoid those objections becoming a distraction to the investigation.
So who's next? Any suggestions? Do any of you readers know of a lawyer who's both a) brilliant, and b) has never so much as cast a dark glance in Andrew Thomas' direction, much less donated to his opponent?
Oh, and it's probably worth noting that any worthy candidate will immediately get the Andrew Thomas special: A full background check, a harumphy letter from some paid lawyer, and a hit piece from Thomas' favorite TV reporter. Just for the record ...