Two weeks ago, Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo issued a scathing ruling against Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas -- kicking him off the prosecution of County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and dismissing the charges against Wilcox to boot.
That decision was a complete excoriation of Thomas' attempts to prosecute Wilcox and fellow supervisor Don Stapley. It led to Thomas being forced to dismiss the charges against Stapley and Judge Gary Donahoe, too.
But today Judge Leonardo declined to rub salt into the wound, rejecting a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Stapley "with prejudice."
Such a ruling -- sought by Stapley's attorney -- would have barred any prosecutor from ever considering a case against Stapley on the matters at hand. (Stapley is accused of establishing a fund to pay for his run for the National Association of Counties, yet instead using the money as a slush fund for himself and his family.)
Leonardo sided with Thomas' prosecutors, instead dismissing the matter "without prejudice" instead.
That decision will allow the special prosecutor chosen by Thomas, Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores, to weigh the case against Stapley and file charges if she chooses.
By dismissing the case filed by Thomas, Leonardo writes, the conflict of interest is removed. And that should allow the investigation to continue.
"It is in the interests of society that criminal charges initiated by a grand jury finding of probable cause will be resolved fairly on the merits of the case," Leonardo writes. "It is in the Defendant's interest to have a fair opportunity to defend against criminal charges brought against him or her."
In essence, Judge Leonardo's saying that Stapley can never clear his name without an independent prosecutor looking at the case against him -- and either rejecting charges or bringing them and allowing him to put on his defense.
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Meanwhile, the judge says, we the people won't get to see justice unless the case is resolved on its merits, and not just halted because of Thomas' missteps.
"Where the possibility of guilt exists, it is a drastic measure to dismiss charges with prejudice, and thereby preclude Defendant's future prosecution without any opportunity by the state to publicly present its evidence and have the merits of the charges resolved by the
criminal justice system," Leonardo writes.
As much as we'd love to see Leonardo smack down Thomas, we have to concede the judge's point. We now know that the feds aren't interested. (Tee hee!) The only way we can really know whether the case against Stapley has to merit is to let the process play out with Flores and her staff giving it a real, unbiased review.
It's nice to know that, more than a year after Thomas first began his witchhunt, we could finally see that happen.