MCSO Detectives Question Former State Bar chief counsel Bob Van Wyck, Alleging He Intimidated Ernie Calderon, Who Backed Andrew Thomas in a Bar Probe
An attorney who recently left a top spot at the State Bar of Arizona says Maricopa County sheriff's detectives recently questioned him in Flagstaff about his alleged "intimidation" of another lawyer with close ties to Andrew Thomas.
That attorney, Bob Van Wyck, says he was baffled by the unannounced visit of the two MCSO detectives, and thought at first that they had knocked on the wrong door.
"They said they needed to speak with me about a, quote, 'incident' involving me and [former State Bar president and Arizona Board of Regents member] Ernie Calderon and some supposed intimidation by me," says Van Wyck, a former State Bar president and Superior Court judge.
"I didn't know what in God's name they were talking about. I've known Ernie for more than 10 years, worked with him closely on several matters, and we've never had a cross word."
Before moving to Flagstaff in December, Van Wyck had been at the epicenter of an ugly brawl between Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and the county's judiciary and media (specifically, this newspaper).
Several parties, including the State Bar itself, filed complaints in late 2007 and early 2008 against Thomas and an ally, private Phoenix attorney Dennis Wilenchik, alleging serious ethical breaches and other problems.
Van Wyck says he learned during his interrogation that he supposedly had "intimidated" Calderon after Calderon filed an affidavit in May 2008 on Thomas' behalf with the Arizona Supreme Court after the bar began its investigations.
Calderon concluded in that five-page affidavit that all the complaints against Thomas lacked merit.
For his efforts, Calderon billed Maricopa County for $11,904, or more than $2,000 per page, according to a spreadsheet provided the county's finance department. That was a small chunk of the $185,461 collected by Calderon and Associates in fiscal 2008 for legal work performed for Maricopa County, which was three times what the Phoenix firm had billed the county during the previous year.
The Thomas camp also collected affidavits from several other attorneys during its defense, including one from legal ethics professor Geoffrey Hazard, who described Van Wyck's actions during the controversial process as "unprofessional."
The affidavits were attached to a "special action" that Thomas' high-priced team of private attorneys filed with the high court, in which they specifically complained about Van Wyck and asked the court to transfer the investigations elsewhere.
Though the Supreme Court rejected Thomas' request, the Bar later did remove its then-chief counsel, Van Wyck, from overseeing the Thomas disciplinary cases. The Bar then appointed retired judge Rebecca Albrecht to take over as an "independent investigator."
Just last week, Albrecht dismissed the remaining complaints against Thomas, citing a lack of evidence. The complaints against Dennis Wilenchik are pending.
Van Wyck says that after quitting the State Bar (he says he is legally proscribed from talking about the circumstances), he resolved to put Phoenix behind him.
He moved to Flagstaff and hung up a shingle advertising a one-man firm specializing in the areas of ethics advice, representation of lawyers, and family law.
Last month, Van Wyck says, he took a call from someone who claimed to be a former client. He didn't recall the name but scheduled an appointment. But instead of an ex-client, he says, it was the two sheriff's detectives, dressed in plainclothes and flashing their badges.
The detectives, Van Wyck says, were courteous. For the record, he says, they did not read the former judge his Miranda Warnings against self-incrimination.
They immediately wanted to know about a call he'd made to Calderon after the pro-Thomas affidavit became public last year.
"I said, 'What?' Van Wyck recalls. "It was the oddest thing. I had absolutely no idea that they would drive all the way up here in regard to this."
Van Wyck says he did call Calderon's secretary shortly after reading the pro-Thomas affidavit "to see if he could speak to me about his analysis, so I could take it into consideration. It was just an incredibly routine phone call."
He says Calderon never returned his call, and that was that.
"I never spoke with Ernie about any of this Thomas stuff, before, during or after, and I told those [detectives] that," Van Wyck says. I was like, 'You guys drove 2 1/2 hours up here to interrogate a citizen about something that can't possibly have any ramifications of any kind. It doesn't even catch a civil issue, much less criminal."
As for Ernie Calderon's recollection of the events? Well, he didn't return two phone calls from New Times.
Shortly after Calderon published his opinion on complaints against Andrew Thomas, the Bar's governing board decided not to reappoint him to the American Bar Association's House of Delegates after his four-year stint. Only four Arizona attorneys serve as delegates each year, and the appointment is considered prestigious in legal circles.
Ironically, Van Wyck says he sided (and still does) with Thomas' philosophical quarrel over the State Bar's current disciplinary structure.
"The perception problem that the Bar has is that its policy and disciplinary functions are set up so they can influence the other," he says. "In Arizona, you can have a 'probable cause' panelist sitting in a case who also is on the Board of Governors, which can look bad. The ABA model seeks to avoid that, and I think that's a good idea."
However, Van Wyck adds, "Here, there was absolutely no interference by anyone in the process and nothing improper at all. Mr. Thomas may have been right in his big-picture view, but not when it came to his particular case. In his case, it was absolutely self-serving."
Jack MacIntyre, a deputy chief for Joe Arpaio, claims not to know anything about his agency's mysterious run at Van Wyck.
"I don't know word one of what you're talking about," says MacIntyre, an attorney and one of the sheriff's closest advisers.
MacIntyre points out that, on Van Wyck's watch, the State Bar filed a complaint against him during a dispute last year between MCSO and criminal-defense attorneys over a reduction in jail visitation hours.
He says that complaint apparently stemmed from blogs on the Arizona Republic Web site that supported his position that the Superior Court judge presiding over the dispute had made up her mind against Arpaio's agency before hearing the evidence.
"It was moronic for them to file that against me," MacIntyre says. "If Bob Van Wyck had ever slept in the same room with a law book, he might know the word 'hearsay' and what it means."
He says that the Bar has dismissed that complaint, too.
Up in Flagstaff, Van Wyck insists he felt more curious than intimidated by the sheriff's detectives.
"Frankly, I was embarrassed for those guys," he says. "There wasn't an episode or an issue or anything at all. It didn't exist. They seemed to be experienced police officers, and I would rather have them doing something real, like maybe solving a crime, or something."
A postscript: A few weeks ago, Thomas asked the county Board of Supervisors to hire Ernie Calderon to deal with legal issues involving East Valley land baron Conley Wolfswinkel and Thomas' pending criminal case against supervisor Don Stapley. In a letter dated March 6, county manager David Smith rejected the request as "both expensive and unnecessary."
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