The public can be forgiven for not fully understanding the ongoing mess of Maricopa County politics, and why a former county attorney stands to lose his law license.
But, dang it, people who publish articles on the subject ought to come close to showing they understand it -- or at least seem to care about getting their facts right.
That's too much to ask, apparently.
In the last two months, the actions of former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and two of his former underlings have been under scrutiny by a State Bar disciplinary panel. Deconstructing the events, actions, statements, and general history that led up to the hearings (which concluded yesterday) for a general-interest article is a challenge -- and we should know, since we've written a couple of hundred articles on the subject. The Arizona Republic's done a good job at helping the public understand what's going on. So have some of the local TV stations.
The same can't be said for Internet writers Dave Tombers, John Hawkins, and Selwyn Duke.
hese guys have each published online articles in recent weeks that attempt to outline why Thomas, et al, are getting a raw deal. As the saying goes, they're entitled to their opinions on that -- but not their own facts.
We'll start with Tombers' October 28 article. Its headline reads: Case against power brokers rebounds against county prosecutor: Even harshest critics call bar association case 'gross overcharging.'
The headline refers to a December 8, 2010 column by Arizona Republic writer Robert Robb, which does indeed conclude with the statement, "Unfortunately, the gross overcharging in the bar allegations gives credence to Thomas' claim that he is the victim of a witch hunt."
However, Tombers' readers would do well to follow the link to Robb's story and read what Robb says about that "overcharging" -- namely, that it's awful because it's exactly the kind of thing Thomas did.
The same column notes that Thomas had "no evidence" of the county conspiracy that he and Sheriff Joe Arpaio alleged and that Thomas and Arpaio assaulted the state's judiciary and threatened the rule of law.
Tombers repeats the nonsense that devious county officials planned to add "penthouse quarters" for judges in the new court tower under construction. The idea that the judges were getting fancy digs was crucial to Thomas' conspiracy theory, because it added a possible motive for why county leaders and judges didn't want the court-tower construction project investigated.
In fact, as County Supervisor Fulton Brock wrote in a newspaper column two years ago, the new building wasn't marble-lined and "judges' offices will be shared."
Although Tombers is correct that $347 million project had come at a time "when county employees were being laid off," that's true of a lot of capital projects around town. Look at Arizona State University, for example, where new buildings still went up despite the economic downturn.
The county attorney and sheriff never had any evidence that the court-tower construction process was corrupt. But they sure didn't like how their budgets were getting cut while the new building moved forward.
Before hitting "publish," Tombers should have educated himself by reading Sarah Fenske's 2009 article about the court-tower conspiracy. There, he would have learned that the investigation into the court tower by Thomas and Arpaio coincidentally began a few days after the county supervisors hired lawyer Tom Irvine to review whether Thomas had a conflict of interest in attempting to prosecute Supervisor Don Stapley for alleged financial-disclosure violations. And he would have learned that the County Attorney's Office had been intimately involved in the court tower's planning.
Then Tombers relates that Thomas was "forced" to turn over his federal racketeering lawsuit against county leaders to the U.S. Justice Department. That was certainly news to us -- we attended the news conference in which Thomas and Arpaio said they were dropping the case because they had achieved "victory." The lawmen told reporters that their new lawyer from Washington D.C., Robert Driscoll, had gotten the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section to agree to review the case.
The head of the Public Integrity Section, Raymond Hulser, wrote to Thomas and Arpaio the next day that his office had done nothing of the kind. Further, he wrote:
"In these circumstances ... I was dismayed to learn that your mere referral of information to the Public Integrity Section was cited and relied upon in a pleading in federal court [the now-ended Arpaio/Thomas civil RICO lawsuit] and then used as a platform for a press conference."
Tombers, a former cop and real-estate agent who lives near Minneapolis, tells New Times that an editor at the right-wing site World Net Daily assigned the story to him and that he got much of his info from one of Thomas' lawyers. He admits he never read the racketeering complaint or the complaint against retired Judge Gary Donahoe -- if he'd done either, we're quite sure, he'd wonder along with us about the lack of strong evidence (or any, as with the bribery charge against Donahoe) for corrupt or criminal behavior.
An even more troublesome article appeared a few weeks earlier by Right Wing News writer John Hawkins.
Hawkins states incorrectly that Thomas turned over the racketeering suit to the Justice Department because he was "vastly understaffed."
He claims erroneously that Judges Kenneth Fields and Gary Donahoe threw out all the indictments against Stapley and County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.
The reality: Fields threw out half of the charges related to Stapley's lack of financial disclosures, and a prosecutor moved to dismiss the other half. Later, the Arizona Court of Appeals (without the help of Fields or Donahoe) refused to reinstate the charges. Wilcox's charges were dismissed by Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo. Wilcox received further vindication when Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores refused to move forward with the case, which involved allegations of conflicts of interest, perjury, and false swearing, because of lack of evidence that a crime had occurred.
Hawkins notes that "well-respected" attorneys took out an ad in the Arizona State Bar magazine to protest the bar complaints against Andrew Thomas -- but Hawkins doesn't seem to realize that he's referring to an earlier set of complaints that were dismissed, not the ones about that Thomas and Aubuchon have had to answer in the recent hearings.
Hawkins says that Donahoe was "forced to resign in disgrace in June of this year" and concludes by implying that the State Bar's disciplinary panelists are "cockroaches."
Rachel Alexander, former deputy county attorney under Thomas who helped work on the racketeering case, caught hell during the disciplinary hearings for publishing Hawkins' piece on her own blog and touting it on her Twitter site.
The Arizona Republic talked to Hawkins about the Donahoe quip for an October 9 article:
Donahoe had in fact postponed his retirement for several months before finally resigning because of the stress of getting prosecuted criminally and sued in civil court by Thomas and his associates. Those cases were later withdrawn.
John Hawkins ... told the Republic that there were "a couple of articles that I think I looked over in reference to Donahoe" before making the statement in the story posted on Alexander's website. The two articles he referred to were, in fact, the same article, written for another ultraconservative website.
We e-mailed Hawkins about these issues and asked whether he planned to correct or clarify his errors. Here's how he responded:
"These State Bar proceedings are nothing but pure politics pursued by other means. Moreover, from what I've seen, most of the press in Maricopa Country, yourself included, have taken such a slanted view of the case that you might as well be paid by the Democratic Party. Somebody needed to get out the alternative view and since the mainstream press seems to be starting with the presumption that the people involved are guilty because they're Republicans, I'm happy that I was able to fill that role.
We're "slanted"? Funny, coming from a fact-challenged propagandist like Hawkins. He "might as well be paid" by the Tea Party. (Hmmm?)
Finally, we should mention Selwyn Duke, who took Hawkins' ball and ran with it in an October 12 article on the American Thinker site. Duke repeats some of Hawkins' errors, then feathers this nest with tough-sounding talk comparing Thomas' woes to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Thomas is suffering a beat-down because of his opposition to illegal immigration, Duke claims.
He's getting beaten down because the facts aren't on his side.