Anyone remember Tom Horne?
You know, the Republican political zombie and onetime Arizona Attorney General who hired his girlfriend, Carmen Chenal, as an assistant attorney general, got himself investigated by the FBI, and was witnessed riding around town with Chenal, wearing a trucker hat as a disguise, as he pulled a vehicular hit and run in a parking lot without leaving a note?
Yeah, that guy. Well, he's still alive, eking out a living practicing law with his former defense attorney Sandra Slaton and dodging a $400,000 fine levied on him by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.
Now the Arizona Court of Appeals has handed him yet another defeat in the case that brought him the $400K bill, upholding a lower court's ruling that he and his political operative, Kathleen Winn, who in 2010 was the head of a pro-Horne independent expenditure committee, illegally coordinated in crafting a TV attack ad against his Democratic opponent, Felecia Rotellini, in the general election.
In opinion issued this week, a state appeals court panel found that Polk did not abuse her discretion, even though she overruled the conclusions of an administrative law judge in the Horne-Winn case.
In fact, as the hearings before the administrative judge demonstrated in 2014, there was more than ample evidence of coordination, including phone records and e-mails that documented the creation of the TV ad by Winn and political consultant Brian Murray.
In its opinion, the appeals court states that:
The evidence supports Polk’s conclusion that Horne and Winn coordinated on October 20, 2010. The content and timing of Winn’s emails to and from Murray and the timing of her phone calls with Horne support Polk’s findings that Horne and Winn discussed the wording of the commercial on October 20 and that their discussion led to changes in the wording of the commercial.
According to Arizona statute, the head of the agency involved, in this case Polk, may "accept, reject or modify" the judge's decision, which basically is a recommendation to the agency head.
In 2013, Polk was appointed to handle the case by Horne's solicitor general.
When Polk found that Horne and Winn had coordinated and had to pay back the $400,000 that had been spent on the TV ad, Horne and Winn appealed Polk's decision, taking it to the Maricopa County Superior Court.
But the duo lost in superior court in October 2014, shortly after Horne lost the GOP primary for AG to Mark Brnovich, who went on to defeat Democrat Felecia Rotellini in the general election that year.
Horne's attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, told New Times that the defendants will continue their appeal upward,
"We're disappointed in the Court of Appeals' decision," said Wilenchik. "We thought we put on a good argument, that there was a fundamental violation of due process, but the court saw it otherwise. Our intention is to petition for review to the Arizona Supreme Court and/or to bring the matter to the attention of the federal courts on the basis of fundamental due process violations."
Wilenchik argues that beyond the facts of Horne's case, there's a larger issue: can the county attorney be involved in the prosecution of the case before the administrative judge but then discard the judge's decision if it is not to the prosecution's liking.
Chandler election law attorney Tom Ryan disagrees. Contacted for this article, he pointed out that the governing statute was followed to the letter, and Horne has been allowed to appeal at every turn.
"It's time for Tom Horne to quit wasting taxpayer money and pay his debt," Ryan said. "He cheated, he got caught, he needs to pay up."
Ryan was instrumental in Horne's political demise when the lawyer represented whistle-blower and former AG employee Sarah Beattie, who came forward in 2014 with a plethora of evidence, showing that Horne was running his re-election campaign out of his office.
Before scandal engulfed Horne's administration, the Democrat-turned-Republican was preparing to run for governor in 2014. But following the revelations of the FBI investigation into his shenanigans, he chose to run for re-election as AG instead.
Ironically, Horne drew the FBI's scrutiny when in 2012 he launched an investigation into a supposed leak to New Times.
During the course of that internal probe, one of Horne's own investigators discovered evidence of wrongdoing.
When Horne and his underlings launched a cover-up, the investigator approached the FBI, thus starting the train of dominoes that led to Horne's undoing.
Ryan also observed that if Horne doesn't own up to his guilt and fork over the dough, he could face an even larger fine.
"If he fails to repay [the $400,000], he could be looking at [fines of] three times that penalty," said Ryan. "He could be looking at $1.2 million he's going to be paying to the state if he doesn't get this resolved shortly."
Problem for Horne is, according to New Times' sources, his law practice hardly is in the clover. Indeed, Horne's reputation is so tainted that he has not been able to cash in on being an ex-AG.
In the past, when Horne stumbled, rich relatives, such as a well-to-do sister in California, have come to his aid.
"How much does Horne's sister love her little brother?" asked Ryan. "Well, we're about to find out."