As I've said before about Arizona's ethically-challenged Attorney General Tom Horne, you can tell a man from Harvard, but you can't tell him much. Which is no doubt why the Harvard-grad persists in some of the dumbest, self-destructive activity possible for a public official, barring that of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, natch.
Take the AG's latest stunt: suing the non-profit Arizona Public Integrity Alliance for defamation over a TV ad currently running, which encourages Horne to do the right thing and pay back the $400,000 that two county attorney's have determined was illegally used on his behalf to help him win the general election in 2010.
Defamation? Are you kidding me? How is it possible to defame a bucket of slime, who pleaded no contest to a vehicular hit and run, hired his alleged mistress as an Assistant Attorney General for $108,000, is accused of coordinating with an independent expenditure committee in violation of state law, and was investigated by the FBI for alleged obstruction of justice and alleged witness tampering, among various other alleged misdeeds?
But a suit filed Friday on Horne's behalf by Scottsdale attorney Sandra Slaton -- whose firm has been listed as an approved vendor with the AG's office -- claims the impossible. That Horne was defamed by AZPIA's ad, which initially, incorrectly stated that Horne was still under investigation by the FBI.
As I pointed out when I first reported on the ad, my understanding was and is that the FBI investigation is past tense. The U.S. Attorney's Office did not bring criminal charges against Horne, and neither did Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. Though if you ask me, both entities wimped out.
AZPIA's attorney Kory Langhofer told me at the time that he had done due diligence before the ad aired by contacting the FBI, which he said gave him their standard reply of not being able to confirm or deny an investigation.
Langhofer now tells me that Horne's attorney hit Cox cable with a letter demanding that the ads be taken down. AZPIA has since changed the ads to say that Horne "was under FBI investigation," a rather minor point, considering what Horne is alleged to have done while in office.
"[Horne] has to show by clear and convincing evidence that the ad is materially false...not just wrong in some tiny respect," Langhofer continued. "He also has to show that the Alliance either knew what it said was false, or acted in reckless disregard of that."
Which the attorney thinks unlikely, since AZPIA was acting on the information it had, and took the time to contact the responsible investigative agency. So Langhofer believes the AG has no case.
"But let's compliment the strategy where compliments are due," Langhofer said. "It's a good way of punishing someone for speaking out."
In other words, it's what's referred to as a SLAPP suit, SLAPP standing for "strategic lawsuit against public participation," which is intended to intimidate opponents, chill free speech and force those speaking out to expend resources on legal fees.
Genius, eh? Not really. Because in Horne's case it draws more attention to the reasons for the ad to begin with: i.e., the AG oozes sleaze.
In fact, I find this the most amusing passage in the suit:
"Mr Horne has suffered damage to his reputation as a result of the Defendants' intentionally false, defamatory publications. To the extent of economic damage, this has also damaged the marital community."
So, the ad damaged Horne's "marital community"? And a rendezvous involving his former employee Carmen Chenal and takeout from Pita Jungle didn't?
I'd love to discuss this ridiculousness with Horne's attorney Sandra Slaton, but she has yet to return my call.
I'd also like to ask Slaton if she feels there's a conflict of interest in her representing the AG, as her firm has been on a list of approved outside counsel for the AG's office, which Horne's PIO Stephanie Grisham sent to me awhile back. (Specifically, her firm's on a list of "awarded firms for CY2012.")
Also, who is paying Slaton's bill, and will that cash be reported as a donation to Horne's 2014 re-election campaign?
Actually, it would be quite amusing to see this matter continue, for depositions to be taken of Carmen Chenal, Kathleen Winn, Horne and others. And for evidence to be gathered, private cell phone records, legal bills, apartment security cameras, etc.
Beware of what you wish for, Tom. You just might get it.
Update November 20, 2013: Slaton still hasn't gotten back with me. Can't blame her. This dumb SLAPP suit by the AG, a public figure who has so thoroughly embarrassed himself in public life that his reputation is lower than proverbial pond scum, is indefensible.
Also, Horne's flack Stephanie Grisham let me know today that, yes, Slaton is contracted with the AG's office to do work as outside counsel.
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"The Office of the Attorney General has had a contract with the Slaton Law Office in 2011, 2012 and 2013. No awards have been made for CY 2014 as of yet.
"We do not show any payments from the Office of the Attorney General to the Slaton Law Office or Slaton & Sannes in the time period of January 1, 2010 to the present."
Don't let that last part fool you, BTW. Doing a solid for the AG never hurts a lawyer, even when the AG is Tom Horne.