Feathered Bastard

Andrew Thomas' Hitwoman Lisa Aubuchon Shot Down on Appeal of Dismissal

Bunny boiler. Sorry, all I could think of as I read through Maricopa County Hearing Officer Harold Merkow's report on former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon and her ongoing appeal of her dismissal, was Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. What will it take, I wonder, for the county to be rid of this power-mad crazy lady?

A lot, apparently. Merkow suggests that the county Merit Commission uphold Aubuchon's September 2010 firing by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, then under the command of interim County Attorney Rick Romley.

Now Aubuchon's appeal goes before the Merit Commission on April 6, which could run with Merkow's recommendation, send it back to him for further inquiry, or, hypothetically, reject it.

Even if the Merit Commission upholds Aubuchon's dismissal, she could appeal the decision to the Maricopa County Superior Court, according to county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick.

And then, there's the notice of claim with the county for a combined $60 million by Aubuchon, her ex-boss, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio's erstwhile Chief Deputy David Hendershott, who is still on paid leave pending the result of an administrative investigation that's been farmed out to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Merkow's scathing 97 page document goes over some of the same ground as the bar investigation report done by independent counsel John Gleason -- the one suggesting that both Aubuchon and her partner-in-infamy Thomas be disbarred.

The Merkow report confirms, for the umpteenth time, that there was nothing of merit behind the Thomas-Aubuchon-Hendershott vendettas against county supervisors and judges, not to mention the disastrous and risible RICO suit. (You can read the entire report for yourself, here.)

And when I say "nothing," I mean, literally, nothing. Particularly in the case of criminal charges sought against Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, and a RICO suit that alleged a wacky, nebulous conspiracy on the part of various county officials and judges to build a new Court Tower.

To this point, Merkow writes,

(Note: Baker was an investigator working on behalf of the MCAO, and she questioned Aubuchon at length.)

To gin up charges on Donahoe, a judge who had ruled against the Thomas-Aubuchon-Hendershott troika and was likely to do so again, Aubuchon simply regurgitated an ethics complaint authored by Hendershott against Donahoe. She charged Donahoe with bribery, obstruction of justice, and hindering prosecution.

(BTW, it was none other than Sheriff Joe Arpaio himself who suggested criminally charging Donahoe, according to the Gleason report.)

Aubuchon rushed to get the charges filed in advance of a 1:30 p.m. hearing before Donahoe on December 9, 2009, so Donahoe would recuse himself. She ran into a little problem when the detectives in the County Attorney's office refused to go before a judge with it. They saw no probable cause for the charges, because there was none.

But the charges were ultimately filed with the assistance of the MCSO, and Donahoe canceled the 1:30 p.m. hearing. Ultimately, those same charges were stayed by a Pima County judge. Aubuchon then went before a Maricopa County grand jury, attempting to keep the matter alive until she and Thomas could score a special prosecutor in the case. Instead, the grand jury voted to end the inquiry.

What's scary about all this, of course, is that the Thomas-Aubuchon-Hendershott axis was framing a Superior Court judge. And if they could do it judges, county supervisors, and other county employees, what could they do, do ya think, to little ol' you and me?

Aubuchon drafted the RICO case at Thomas' behest, and she drafted it very badly: One, because there was no conspiracy; two, because she'd never done it before. The MCAO had an attorney who specialized in such cases, a guy named Peter Spaw. But he didn't write the thing. In fact, Spaw and others at the MCAO knew that the RICO complaint was dead on arrival.

Spaw advised Thomas to distance himself from it. (Neither the Donahoe or the RICO cases went through the normal vetting process.) Later, Spaw testified that the RICO case was "incomprehensible" and "defectively pled [sic] at a breathtaking level."

Spaw attempted to get supporting documents from Aubuchon concerning the RICO filing, but Aubuchon had nothing to give him.

"You just don't get it," Aubuchon spewed when  Spaw asked for the evidence behind the complaint.

A lot of other people didn't get it either, including Thomas' loyal henchman Barnett Lotstein. Merkow describes Lotstein's reaction to the RICO suit in this passage:

And when Barnett Lotstein thinks it's a bad idea, you know you're in trouble.

Interestingly, in the ten days or so of hearings from November 2010 to February 2011 on Aubuchon's appeal of her dismissal, neither Lotstein, nor Thomas, nor Hendershott testified on Aubuchon's behalf. Thus proving conclusively the old adage about honor among scoundrels.

Arpaio's high-powered DC attorney Robert Driscoll met with Spaw, who convinced him the RICO suit was headed for a "nasty dismissal." Arpaio and Thomas dropped the suit, and forwarded it over to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which didn't want it, BTW.

Nevertheless, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke reviewed the suit, and wrote a letter to then interim County Attorney Rick Romley advising Romley that there was "a total lack of evidence" to support it, and that "the evidence was so lacking as to make the theory of liability nearly incomprehensible."

After reading Merkow's report, you get the feeling that Aubuchon is basically toast, but is so delusional that she thinks she can prevail somehow. Prior to Thomas taking office in 2005, Aubuchon labored in relative obscurity. But Thomas evidently saw in her someone who would do his bidding.

She was promoted, first to division chief, supervising 100 other lawyers. Then in 2007, she was made the primary attorney in Arpaio and Thomas' now-defunct Maricopa Anti-Corruption Enforcement Unit (MACE). 

By comparison, pro-Thomas lawyer/blogger Rachel Alexander -- also the subject of a pending bar complaint -- comes off like a bumbling, clueless stooge. Alexander was ultimately handed the RICO case, but even Thomas recognized at one point that Alexander couldn't handle the job.

Aubuchon was on a tear, but once Thomas resigned to run for Attorney General, the source of her power, her protector, was gone.

Merkow, himself a lawyer, shows Aubuchon no mercy for the havoc she's wrought, referring to her at one point as a "dervish" and rejecting her argument that she was just abiding Thomas' wishes like the proverbial Good German.

He observes,

I like the "hubris" line. My only objection would be that, according to Aristotle at least, hubris is the downfall of a tragic hero, who is by nature noble and virtuous. But there's no element of nobility in Aubuchon's tale. And certainly no virtue.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons