Facing both a primary challenge from former Arizona Gaming Director Mark Brnovich and ongoing attacks from fellow Republicans at the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is seeking settlements in two intertwined civil actions involving his alleged wrongdoings in office and on the campaign trail.
The first involves AG investigator Meg Hinchey, who sued Horne, the state, and Horne chief deputy Eric "Rick" Bistrow last year after filing a notice of claim for $10 million in 2012 for retaliation, slander, and harassment.
The other is a campaign finance case against Horne and former campaign operative Kathleen Winn (now the AG's outreach director). In October, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk ordered that the pair pay back nearly $400,000 in ill-gotten campaign contributions or face triple damages.
Court filings in both cases indicate that Horne is looking to throw this baggage overboard as he sails into battle first with Brnovich and perhaps later with Democrat Felecia Rotellini, whom he bested in 2010 with the assistance of a TV ad attacking Rotellini paid for by Winn's Business Leaders for Arizona.
On Friday, the parties in the Hinchey case filed a joint settlement report with a U.S. District Judge, stating that talks between the two sides "produced an agreement in principal" and that the lawyers are now "drafting the settlement agreements."
The notice further states, "The parties anticipate that the language will be finalized and the agreements executed within about three weeks."
Hinchey got the ball rolling on an FBI investigation of Horne after she discovered information implicating Horne in campaign-finance irregularities, among other shenanigans, and turned over the info to the feds.
As a result, Hinchey claims that she was the subject of retaliation, slander, and harassment because she did what was right. And knowing how Horne operates, her claims are not difficult to believe.
Brnovich's campaign responded to a request for comment with this quote from the candidate:
"Tom Horne is a classic bully and the only way to stop a bully is to fight back. Meg Hinchey fought back and blew the whistle on Horne and his staff when she believed he was covering up campaign state finance law violations and attempting to destroy records.
"The problem is that while Tom Horne settles with Meg Hinchey, Arizona taxpayers are left holding the bill."
Brnovich further warns, "Don't be surprised when Tom Horne tries to settle his campaign-finance violation case to avoid further damaging headlines."
Which is exactly what the AG is aiming to do.
If you'll recall, both the U.S. Attorney's Office and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery declined to prosecute Horne criminally, following an FBI investigation.
Instead, Montgomery sought to fine Horne and Winn for alleged illegal coordination between the two during the campaign, while Winn was operating BLA.
After state courts determined that Montgomery should not have been handling the case, the AG's Office conflicted it out to Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who like Montgomery found that Horne and Winn had coordinated, and therefore must cough up close to $400,000 or face triple damages.
Horne and Winn refused to pay, and were headed for a hearing before an administrative law judge, where they and others likely would have to testify under oath.
Enter the dangers of sworn testimony and a political circus for the media's delectation. In an election year, mind you.
Which is why Horne's ready to plead for his skin. Polk has advised the administrative judge that this Thursday at 3 p.m. an "informal settlement conference" will be held "in response to the request filed on January 16, 2014 by Tom Horne and Tom Horne for Attorney General."
Thing is, even if Horne concludes both cases, the stench of scandal sticks to Horne like bad cologne on a New York City cab driver.
The FBI was looking into Horne for alleged obstruction of justice and tampering with witnesses. In the course of doing so, the FBI observed Horne's now infamous vehicular hit-and-run in the parking lot of his alleged mistress Carmen Chenal's apartment building.
At the time, Chenal was an assistant attorney general hired by Horne at a salary of $108,000. Before that, Horne had gotten Chenal work with the Department of Education, when he was state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Rumors of them taking long lunches together stretch back to their DOE days. Chenal was considered by some to be unqualified the DOE job and the position as an AAG.
Chenal is now employed by Horne supporter Dennis Wilenchik, who also happens to be approved to take work from the AG's Office as an outside council, and according to Horne's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, has been assigned a case recently.
Already, the AZPIA has targeted Horne for his lack of ethics with mailers to Republicans and a TV ad, over which Horne SLAPP-sued AZPIA, before quickly caving once pugnacious elections law attorney Tom Ryan threatened to take on the case free of charge.
And yet, Horne's legislative aide Brett Mecum recently informed the Arizona Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet that Horne had raised about $300K, Tweeting the same info.
Such is one benefit of being a sitting AG: People give your campaign money, out of fear, if nothing else.
Horne did not have a table at the recent Arizona GOP state committee meeting, though I was told he showed up early, and left soon thereafter. I got there shortly after the meeting began and saw Horne nowhere in sight.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Brnovich was there, of course. And his minions were outfitted with blue T-shirts hawking his candidacy. On the back of those shirts was printed a cheeky reference to Horne's hit-and-run.
It asks, "Who doesn't leave a note?"
Hopefully, the answer to that question and to the question of who was in the passenger seat that fateful day will rid the AG's Office of Horne by year's end.