Maricopa County Craziness

Andrew Thomas Appeals to State Supreme Court Over Strip of Power

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is making what may be his final stand against his enemies in county management with an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.

In a 37-page brief filed today, Thomas tells the Court he wants it to strike down as illegal the County Supervisors' takeover of civil litigation work, and rule that the county attorney "is the legal advisor to the Board in all matters" with some exceptions.

We know, we know -- these many lawsuits in this ongoing county feud are hard to keep track of. This is one of the biggies: The Supes took away Thomas' ability to handle the county's civil cases and created its own litigation department. Thomas says the move was in retaliation for his prosecution of County Supervisor Don Stapley. The county says it's because Thomas doesn't understand his legal conflicts of interest.

Judge Donald Daughton of the Superior Court ruled against Thomas last month, saying he "has not complied" with standard conflict-of-interest rules.

The way Thomas sees it, though, the Superior Court has it in for him. Here's his statement from a news release today:

"By filing this appeal today, I've done all I can do to protect the interests of county taxpayers, defend my office from retaliation for the indictment of Supervisor Donald Stapley, and challenge the troubling triangle that exists between the board of supervisors, the Superior Court, and their shared attorney, Thomas Irvine.

"These three produced a ruling which makes it all but impossible to prosecute politicians for corruption, and which causes chaos in our legal system that'll ultimately cost the taxpayers untold millions of dollars. I respectfully ask the Arizona Supreme Court to address this urgent situation and affirm the rule of law in Maricopa County.

"I will now turn my attention and energies to pursuing the reforms needed to prevent these things from happening again."

This is only one of Thomas' last-ditch efforts in this case: He's also complained to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has had its hands full in Maricopa County lately.

If our esteemed leaders don't watch out, the feds might come in and take over the whole county.

UPDATE: Here are the comments from county officials regarding Thomas' latest move:

County Manager David Smith:

"Judge Daughton's Aug. 27 decision was carefully and meticulously reasoned. His ruling affirmed the authority of the Board of Supervisors to control its own litigation and to receive conflict-free advice and not waste taxpayer funds on overly broad records requests."

Wade Swanson, director of Office of General Litigation:

"If the Arizona Supreme Court accepts Mr. Thomas' case, I trust it will affirm the trial court's ruling that Andy Thomas must put professionalism before politics. That he must adhere to the ethical obligations that apply to every attorney in Arizona, whether they are hired, elected or appointed.

"You know, if the county attorney would have acted ethically previously, then the Board's action of firing him would have been unnecessary. And if he were willing to act ethically now, then the lawsuit he filed could be resolved."

Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox:

"This action will move the case forward and I am confident that the Supreme Court will uphold Judge Daughton's decision. This will allows us to get on with the county's work."

Thomas K. Irvine, counsel in the lawsuit:

"The county is confident that the trial court's findings that the County Attorney must follow the Ethics Rules and that a lawyer cannot sue his client will be affirmed.

"The most basic principle of a lawyer's ethics is that the lawyer will have no conflicts with his client. Judge Donald Daughton's ruling merely affirms this basic rule and reminded the County Attorney that he must follow it.

"On behalf of the taxpayers, Maricopa County will continue to demand conflict-free legal advice. It was certainly no surprise that the trial judge dismissed the County Attorney's lawsuit. Maricopa County is confident that the rule of ethics will prevail over the County Attorney's political expediency."

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.