Maricopa County's most famous disbarred lawyers, Andrew Thomas and Lisa Aubuchon, were slapped down by the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals today in a bid for immunity from a lawsuit.
The ruling allows former Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley to proceed with his lawsuit against the former County Attorney, his sidekick, and the county in general.
But the best parts of the ruling are what the Ninth's judges said about Thomas' unethical efforts to stick it to his political enemies.
Today's ruling is the latest in what seems like never-ending fallout from Thomas' corrupt reign as Maricopa County Attorney. Aubuchon's still appealing her disbarment and a six-figure court sanction. Mary Rose Wilcox is still fighting for her $975,000 settlement. Andrew Thomas is running for governor.
And, of course, Don Stapley's still suing for his piece of the taxpayer-funded pie.
Stapley, a Republican County Supervisor representing the Mesa area for 15 years, was reamed more than any of the enemies of Thomas and his accomplice, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. That's partially his fault, considering his failure to disclose certain financial matters and other suspicious acts. But Arpaio, Thomas, Aubuchon, and others subverted ethical legal procedures in their zeal to nail Stapley and other officials, investigations found. Stapley chose last year to end his political career, but he's still seeking $15 million in retribution for the trumped-up criminal charges against him that later were dropped.
As part of their defense in the federal lawsuit, Thomas and Aubuchon, the deputy county attorney who bent rules to go after Stapley and others, argued that they enjoyed absolute immunity in bringing legal actions against Stapley because they were government prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Neil Wake rejected that theory, which kicked the argument up to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appellate judges viewed Thomas' claims of immunity dimly, noting that he had no special status above any private citizen in filing a bogus federal racketeering lawsuit against Stapley and other county defendants in 2009.
"The suit was essentially a harassing public-relations ploy," the appeals court judges wrote. "Defendants filed baseless criminal suits against Stapley and others both before and after filing the RICO suit, seeking media publicity for their actions in connection with these suits."
Interestingly, the court notes that it had recently rejected another immunity claim by one of Thomas' former special prosecutors -- in the pending lawsuit filed against him and Sheriff Joe Arpaio by New Times.
In that case, Thomas and Arpaio joined forces to attack New Times under a constitutionally suspect Arizona law that makes it illegal to publish the home address of a law enforcement officer on the web. With local lawyer Dennis Wilenchik acting as special prosecutor, grand-jury subpoenas -- later proved to be invalid -- were leveled against New Times, and company executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were arrested after they published details of the subpoenas. Lacey was jailed for several hours before Thomas apologized publicly in a news conference.
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While Thomas was granted absolute immunity in that case, Wilenchik wasn't, and New Times ' lawsuit is continuing against Wilenchik and Arpaio.
Between the Ninth Circuit court's 2011 ruling in the Lacey case and today's ruling on Thomas and Aubuchon, bad prosecutors and other law officers should take note:
You're not as unaccountable as you may think you are.