Maricopa County Craziness

Andrew Thomas Exploits Victims of Probate-Court Scandals in Apparent Attempt to Gain Sympathy After Disbarment

Andrew Thomas is a failed politician in serious need of good publicity.

After being disbarred in April for unethical acts as Maricopa County Attorney, Thomas also wants to strike back at the judiciary system, which he feels screwed him over.

So now, he's putting himself on public display as the face of judicial reform, backing a proposition which will appear on the November 2012 ballot and makes changes in the judge-selection system.

But there are a few problems with the idea of Thomas as judicial-corruption fighter.

Foremost is the fact that he was disbarred because he is, in a word, corrupt. Using powerful forces of law enforcement, and with Sheriff Joe Arpaio at his side, he attacked judges, county leaders and members of the Board of Supervisors with whom he'd had disputes.

Secondly, he's just piggybacking on the work of others.

Proposition 115, the ballot measure he's now backing, was referred to the ballot by the Legislature. It's not like he organized petition gatherers or raised money for it.

Then there's the odd fact that he's railing against the judiciary by using a proposition that is supported by the judiciary and the State Bar of Arizona.

He was told of that fact at the news conference Thomas held today at the State Capitol about the proposition.

"That is surprising," he remarked.

He really shouldn't have been surprised. The State Bar and Arizona Judicial Council are on-the-record for their support of the measure, which tweaks the way the State Bar helps select judges, raises the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 and makes other changes.

At the Capitol, Thomas said he suspected their support was a "face-saving" move because the "Legislature was poised to do something more draconian if they didn't support it."

He's right about that, it seems. But the support by his enemies makes for poor drama. It adds a "who cares" element to his post-disbarment political career.

The biggest problem with Thomas trying to be a leader of this reform effort is Thomas' exploitation of the victims of Arizona's sometimes-hellish probate-court system.

The notion that he's just another victim is simply unbelievable.

Thomas brought along Dennis Ball, Clair DiPardo, Jayme Mason and Patti Gomes to the news conference, each of whom had horrific stories to tell of greedy lawyers, incompetent or "corrupt" judges and devious fiduciary companies.

Their tales -- some of which have been told in news reports and online memoirs -- are about elderly or supposedly incompetent people who were swindled out of big bucks while lawyers and private fiduciaries got rich.

But they have nothing in common with Thomas, who was disbarred by a three-member panel after a lengthy investigation and series of public hearings.

Thomas pulled out his old theory that the entire judiciary is corrupt, which led to the probate-court victims' problems and his own downfall. The victims at the press conference are buying into this idea.

"He's also a victim of those judges," said DiPardo, when asked why a disbarred county attorney was a good choice to lead their fight.

Asked why she thought that, DiPardo mentioned the affidavit by Mark Dixon that we wrote about yesterday, in which Dixon claims that the state Supreme Court Disciplinary Judge who heard the Thomas case, William O'Neil, was biased against Thomas. Dennis Ball also referred to Dixon's affidavit, handing out a printout of a conservative blog's article about Dixon. Yet Dixon's claims, if they are to be believed, don't refute the mounds of evidence presented at the hearings.

If some judges are corrupt, we asked Ball, what about powerful county attorneys who charge people with felonies despite a lack of evidence of any crime?

Ball, who's running for president of the United States this year, had to admit that didn't sound good, either.

While county attorney, Thomas did make an effort to reform the merit-selection system for judges. But so have local lawmakers who don't carry the same baggage as Thomas.

At this point, with the support from the judiciary, the State Bar and passionate victims of a probate-court system badly in need of reform, it's hard to see how Prop 115 could fail -- unless voters believe that Andrew Thomas has something to do with it.

"In every system, there are always ways you can improve it," says Jennifer Liewer, spokeswoman for the Arizona Supreme Court. "(Prop. 115) was a compromise made with several groups."

The prop doesn't specifically address the probate-court system. Other bills passed by the State Legislature last year attempt to do that.

Liewer says probate-court cases are similar to those in family court, in that it's very difficult to sort out the "very different, personal situation," especially when a family member is unable to represent himself or herself.

One person that Prop 115 advocates can't count on for support, apparently, is Sheriff Arpaio.

After the opening of the new Maricopa County Court Tower in February, Arpaio was asked by a KJZZ reporter whether he still considered it a symbol of a corrupt judiciary.

"That was yesterday, today is today," Arpaio answered.

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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.
Contact: Ray Stern