Stapley Case Down Another Prosecutor; Local Lawyer Bows Out of Thomas' Dream Team


Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing may work as special prosecutors in the Stapley case -- if they're approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing may work as special prosecutors in the Stapley case -- if they're approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Image: Jim King

You could say prosecutors are dropping like flies at this point: First, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas tossed the first Stapley case to Yavapai County. Then, after losing that case, the Yavapai prosecutors declined to work on the most recent potential charges against Stapley. Thomas then found the two D.C. lawyers and Phoenix attorney David Eisenberg to act as special prosecutors.

Picking Eisenberg turned out to be another screw up -- he bowed out on Friday.

Here's what we find most odd about this news: Using special prosecutors with no ties to the County Attorney's Office was supposed to help erase any appearance that Thomas might have a conflict of interest in prosecuting a member of the county Board of Supervisors. Yet Eisenberg's replacement is James Rizer, a retiree who spent his career at -- you guessed it -- the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Neither Eisenberg nor Rizer returned a message left by New Times.

Barnett Lotstein, one of Thomas' top aides, tells us that once Eisenberg began reviewing the documents in the Stapley case file, the working defense attorney realized a former client might somehow be part of the case.

"He determined on his own, not with prodding from us, that he should withdraw," Lotstein says.

A letter Eisenberg sent to Thomas on Friday states that he'd consulted with an ethicist from the State Bar before making his decision. Lotstein says Eisenberg's decision is fine by Thomas, who wants no appearance of a conflict-of-interest in the case. (We don't think that's possible at this point, but whatever).

The D.C. lawyers, Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, need a local, bar-certified attorney to sponsor their work in Arizona, so Thomas had to find a replacement for Eisenberg right away. The county attorney chose James Rizer, a retired prosecutor who doesn't know Thomas, Lotstein says. The reasons for picking Rizer aren't clear. Lotstein says Thomas' top aides chose the former employee after considering a number of people who were deemed "competent" enough to handle the duties.

Rizer ended a 30-year career at the County Attorney's Office in June of 2003 -- months before Thomas first took office, he says. A Board of Supervisors meeting in 2008 honored Rizer for his long-term service to the county.

Still, we wonder if Rizer will feel loyalty toward his old alma mater. Is this truly the least amount of "conflict" that Thomas could muster? Lotstein, while discounting any idea that Rizer isn't perfect for the job, admits that it's tough to find people who have no possible conflicts of interests with either Thomas or Stapley, who's been a Supervisor since 1992.

The Board of Supervisors still has to confirm the appointment of the special prosecutors at its upcoming Wednesday meeting. And maybe they won't do it. Since the special prosecutors have been charged with going after other, as-of-yet unspecified cases of public corruptions, giving Thomas' hand-picked lawyers a thumbs-up might be, shall we say, counter-productive?

We assume Stapley will choose, appropriately, not to vote on his own potential prosecution team. But what about Mary Rose Wilcox, who is the target of an active criminal investigation by Sheriff Joe Arpaio? She's unlikely to vote "aye," in our humble opinion, so it'll only take one vote out of the three remaining members to blow Thomas' dream team out of the water.

Then the next hunt will begin for a new Stapley prosecutor. We usually don't believe in shameless plugs, but in this case -- might we suggest the "jobs" section of our own


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