Maybe tailing the investigator for the Arizona State Supreme Court was a bad idea.
A probable-cause panelist for the state high court, spurred by a report from investigator John Gleason, has ordered disciplinary procedures to begin against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his former deputy, Lisa Aubuchon.
In a 76-page report presented to the panelist, Gleason notes that if the allegations against Thomas and Aubuchon were proven, then they should be disbarred.
Such a disciplinary move would be a major blow to Thomas, who quit his office in what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid for state Attorney General this year. Disbarment would mean Thomas and Aubuchon couldn't work as lawyers in Arizona. Thomas could forget any notion of a political comeback.
The final word on punishment won't be known for several months.
The report by John Gleason is expected to be released by the state Supreme Court at a 2 p.m. news conference.
We don't have the report yet, but a state Supreme Court official confirmed the gist of it to New Times.
The order by Judge Charles Jones, who was appointed this year as a "probable cause panelist" to help sort out the county's legal mess, was filed with the Arizona State Bar this afternoon.
The order is more than a recommendation that Thomas and Aubuchon be disbarred, says the state high court's spokeswoman, Jennifer Liewer. She compared Jones' report to the findings of a grand jury.
The next step will be for Gleason, (brought in from Colorado to avoid a perception of bias), to file formal charges with the bar's new disciplinary judge, William O'Neil. During his investigation, Gleason was tailed by private investigators working for lawyers hired by Aubuchon at public expense.
An Arizona Republic article today suggests that disciplinary action may also be coming for former deputy county attorney and blogger Rachel Alexander.
We can't help but wonder how one of Thomas' chief aides, Barnett Lotstein, would remain unscathed in these proceedings.
In any case, Thomas and crew will have plenty of opportunity to fight and/or appeal their case.
Rick DeBruhl, spokesman for the State Bar, says Gleason will file the charges "in the near future." Typically, this step would occur within 60 days, but in this case it'll likely to happen sooner, he says.
Within 150 days of the charges being filed Thomas and Aubuchon will be given the chance to defend themselves against the allegations in a public "trial" of sorts, DeBruhl says. He adds that the event won't be a "trial," per se, because Thomas and Aubuchon haven't been accused of any crime. Rather, they will fight allegations that they violated the ethical rules of attorneys, he says. Continuing the metaphor, Gleason will act as the "prosecutor," DeBruhl says, and will present the case to a small panel consisting of O'Neil, a lawyer, and a member of the public.
O'Neil could grant time extensions to the process, if he decides it's necessary, DeBruhl adds.
Theoretically, Thomas and Aubuchon could also receive punishment that falls short of disbarment.
DeBruhl says Jones' order could have contained a recommendation for the immediate suspension of the law licenses of Thomas and Aubuchon, but it didn't.
Aubuchon filed a $10 million claim against the county after being fired, and both she and Thomas have set up shop in the Valley as private-practice lawyers.
As far as we're concerned, this should be a slam-dunk case for disbarment. Thomas, for example, filed a criminal complaint (with Aubuchon's help) against Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe that alleged bribery. No evidence of anything remotely resembling bribery ever surfaced, and the facts surrounding the case seem to show that Thomas used the charge to avoid a conflict-of-interest hearing against him by Donahoe.
Thomas, working as the legal arm to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's politically minded "anti-corruption" task force, also brought charges against County Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley.
All of those charges were dropped after a judge ruled that Thomas had serious conflicts in the cases.
UPDATE: Read more about these developments and see electronic versions of the order and investigative report in the Feathered Bastard blog.