It's true: We've had an ongoing chuckle at the expense of Lisa Aubuchon, the hapless prosecutor assigned to the Don Stapley case.
But Aubuchon's most recent filing in this case isn't so much funny as pathetic. For one thing, she disses us. (Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office, dissing us? Who would have thunk it?) For another, the poor prosecutor seems really, really confused on her boss' true identity.
A tiny bit of background: Thomas's office indicted Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley on 118 criminal counts in December for essentially failing to fully disclose his business interests on county paperwork. As we've repeatedly pointed out, the indictment is pure overkill -- and just may be linked to litigation involving Thomas' private attorney.
But before Stapley's lawyers can explore any of those issues, they're stuck slogging it out with Thomas's office on the issue of which judge should hear the case. Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell handed off the case to a retired judge, Kenneth Fields -- and Thomas has been squawking about Fields' alleged bias ever since.
Indeed, one of the key points of Thomas's argument is that Fields filed a complaint with the State Bar of Arizona against Thomas. Thomas has claimed that in court filings and press releases.
Problem is, it simply isn't true. Not unless Andrew Thomas and Dennis Wilenchik are the same person.
Stapley's attorney, Tom Henze of Gallagher & Kennedy, makes just that point in a brief filed December 29.
Fields did pen a letter to the State Bar in October 2007, Henze writes. But it dealt only with one issue: The fact that Dennis Wilenchik, a special prosecutor appointed by Thomas, improperly attempted to contact the presiding criminal judge during Wilenchik's aborted prosecution of New Times. (Full disclosure: Henze represented this newspaper on that case.)
"There is simply no mention of Andrew Thomas or the Maricopa County Attorney's Office in the letter to the bar," Henze writes. "The state completely fabricates that this is a bar complaint directed at the county attorney ... Judge Fields initiated no complaint against anyone but Mr. Wilenchik."
You'd think Thomas's office would realize its mistake and stand corrected. But, last week, it attempted to strike back, insisting that Fields complaint was against Thomas, despite all facts to the contrary.
In support of her argument, Aubuchon argues, "Judge Fields referred the Bar to a media article that sharply criticized Andrew Thomas."
So Fields filed a complaint against Wilenchik, but he's supposedly also biased against Thomas because he included an article that criticized him? From now on, we suppose, every sitting judge should ban from their presence any newspaper story critical of the Little Dictator in the county attorney's office?
Now, to be fair to Thomas, the Bar did later expand the file started by Fields' complaint to include the entire New Times case where Wilenchik served as special prosecutor. That meant also looking at the issue of whether Thomas had a conflict by apppointing his old boss, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's favorite attorney, to prosecute this newspaper.
But that isn't anything Fields touched on. And to say he's biased because other parties later added to his complaint -- and the Bar ran with it -- is just silly.
We suspect, though, that prosecutor Aubuchon has lost all sense of reason because the matter deals with New Times. Just listen to how she refers to us in her latest filing: "A tabloid publication known for hoaxes and deliberately inaccurate statements designed to draw attention to itself." Aubuchon also called the article submitted by Fields in his complaint against Wilenchik "scurrilous."
Not to toot our own horn, but not a word of the article in question has been discredited. In fact, it served as the lead piece in a series that won a Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism and the Maggie Award for "Best Public Service Series." Yeah, this paper has been known to take a mocking tone and to write about the prurient -- but the story Fields enclosed with his complaint detailed an all too real abuse of power.
But it's hard to see clearly when you're frothing at the mouth.
Indeed, Aubuchon's most recent filing suggests she may well have gone off the deep end. In it, she literally tries to claim that Judge Fields must be biased simply because Stapley's lawyers filed paperwork arguing that he should be allowed to stay on the case! Talk about an error in logic.
Just read how over-the-top Aubuchon sounds here: "It is also improper for a Defendant who is a public official to purposefully try to keep a judge on his case that he knows is biased against the State. While perhaps a clever defense strategy, it is simply yet another piece of evidence of improper conduct from this duly indicted public official."
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Reading that, you get the sense Aubuchon and Thomas would like to indict Stapley, again, for the audacity of daring to battle in his own defense.
She continues, "The Defendant's continuing, dogged and flagrant attempt to retain Judge Fields says all you need to know about how the defense views Judge Fields' neutrality." In other words, any judge who Stapley is in favor of must, by definition, be biased.
It sounds nutty, but who are we to judge, tabloid that we are? So we'll just acquiesce. Any time Andrew Thomas's office is prosecuting anybody from this point on, we think defense lawyers should be entitled to use the Aubuchon test. Something like this: Does Andrew Thomas object to the judge in question staying on the case? If not, there's your proof -- the judge is biased in favor of the prosecution!
Yeah, that'll work ...