Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon -- long considered Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' hatchet-woman for politically sensitive cases -- is no longer handling the racketeering lawsuit that Thomas' office filed against a host of county officials.
Instead, the RICO suit will be now be handled by one of the few attorneys in Thomas' office perceived to be even more political than Aubuchon: conservative blogger-turned-special assistant Rachel Alexander.
The bizarre lawsuit, now being handled by Alexander, accuses the county supervisors, some county judges, and other county employees of being a "criminal enterprise." Apparently these cronies conspired to -- gasp! -- build a new courthouse.
The move has insiders scratching their heads because Alexander is thought to be more involved in the global, strategic end of things instead of actually litigating, much less handling a case of this legal complexity.
Indeed, Alexander was a lawyer for the racy Scottsdale-based Web-hosting service GoDaddy.com and the founder of intellectualconservative.com when Thomas brought her on five years ago to serve as a "special assistant." That title seems to mean mostly that she blogs about issues affecting Thomas' office -- although Alexander also donated some time on New Year's Day to "tweet" a message seeking volunteers for Thomas' exploratory campaign for Arizona Attorney General.
And now she'll be handling one of his most high-profile cases? Interesting choice, to say the least.
Now, it's worth noting that New Times has long enjoyed a laugh at the hapless Aubuchon, a lawyer who's bungled her way through some of Thomas' most misguided prosecutions -- and lost just about every one that we're aware of. (Ajo Al's was charged with dirty dining? Not guilty. ACLU legal director Dan Pochoda charged with trespassing? Not guilty. How about Tom Lovejoy, the cop accused of killing his partner/police dog, Bandit? Again, not guilty.)
As much as we hate to admit it, though, Aubuchon likely wasn't taken off the RICO suit because her boss suddenly became aware of her general incompetence. No, we suspect it had more to do with a legal brief filed by Jordan Green, the lawyer representing Judge Gary Donahoe.
Just after filing the RICO lawsuit in federal court, Aubuchon filed a direct criminal complaint against Judge Donahoe on behalf of the County Attorney's Office, alleging that he'd committed bribery by allowing the court tower project to go through. (Never-mind that the complaint didn't even come close to alleging any actual bribery.)
But, as Donahoe's lawyer pointed out, the county attorney is barred from prosecuting anyone who he's also suing. In the RICO suit, Thomas claims that his office has been victimized by Judge Donahoe and his co-conspirators.
According to the laws governing attorneys in Arizona, that means Thomas can't also use his office to prosecute them.
"The duty of the prosecutor is to represent the state," Donahoe's lawyers write. "In doing so, he must exercise independent judgment without bias or partiality. A concurrent conflict exists if the prosecutor has a personal interest in the matter, as when he is the victim of a crime ... Likewise, a prosecutor cannot fairly and impartially represent the state when, in separate civil litgation, the prosecutor seeks damages from the same alleged wrongdoer for injuring the prosecutors' office."
In essence, a prosecutor can't use his office as a hammer to help himself out in civil litigation -- and he can't do his job impartially if he has a vested financial interest in bringing down a "defendant."
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We suspect that someone at Thomas' office realized they screwed up not only by filing the RICO suit and then attempting to prosecute its defendants -- but also by literally using the very same lawyer in both cases. Removing Lisa Aubuchon from the RICO suit may be a clumsy attempt to show separation between the two actions.
That's just our theory, of course. (Thomas' spokesman, Barnett Lotstein, did not respond to a message last week when we attempted to get his "take" on it.) But really... how else to explain that Thomas now has a blogger working his centerpiece litigation.
Unless he needed to move Lisa Aubuchon off the case and couldn't find another lawyer willing to sully his or her name by taking it on?
If you've got a better theory, we'd love to hear it ...