Maricopa County Craziness

Andrew Thomas' Total Defeat on Mary Rose Wilcox Case: An Analysis of Judge Leonardo's Ruling

Don't believe the spin.

And don't believe everything you read. (Ahem, E.J. Montini loyalists.)

In his ruling today, Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo did not just smack down Maricopa County Andrew Thomas and his ambitions of prosecuting the case against Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.

He smacked him down, he smoked him, and then he stomped on him for good measure.

Leonardo's ruling doesn't just agree with Wilcox's attorneys on every single conflict of interest that they alleged -- although it does, in fact, agree with them. And the judge didn't just dismiss the entire indictment against Wilcox, although he did that, too.

No, Leonardo took it a step further. He expressly barred Thomas from hiring his celebrity D.C.-based "special prosecutors," at least in the way Thomas had hoped to.

Thomas, after all, wanted to hire Victoria Toensing and Peter DiGenova as "independent special deputy county attorneys," according to the language in their official appointment letters.

Those letters, signed by Thomas, said that DiGenova and Toensing would "act with the authority of my office on behalf of the Maricopa County Attorney" and "assume prosecutorial responsibility" for "all other matters I designate." In closed-door meetings, too, we're told that Thomas' staff bristled at the hiring of special prosecutors that weren't working with and/or chosen by his office.

Leonardo's ruling expressly forbids such a setup.

"The Maricopa County may appoint a special prosecutor," he writes, "on the condition that the new prosecutor is not independently subject to disqualification, and that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and the Maricopa County Attorney relinquish total control of the investigation and prosecution of [Wilcox] to the special prosecutor and refrain from any further participation in these matters."

That language appears to bar, for example, the kind of setup that Thomas attempted to use with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. Though ostensibly a special, independent prosecutor on the case against Supervisor Don Stapley, Polk found herself in meetings with Thomas, learned that Thomas' prosecutor Lisa Aubuchon had been advising the Sheriff's Office, and ultimately was asked to return the cases to Thomas.

By saying Thomas' office must relinquish "total control" and "any further participation [emphasis added]," Judge Leonardo made it clear that sort of setup won't fly -- much less the sort of "deputy county attorneys" that Thomas hoped DiGenova and Toensing would be.

There are other juicy nuggets in the eight-page ruling, which my colleague Ray Stern provided a link to in his post here.

For one thing, Leonardo found that Thomas, in fact, had four actual conflicts of interest -- not just perceived ones or an appearance of impropriety. He found that:
* Thomas made "efforts to retaliate against" the board of supervisors,
* Thomas attempted to "gain political advantage by prosecuting those who oppose him politically,"
* Thomas had a "political alliance with the Maricopa County Sheriff who misused the power of his office to target" the board of supervisors. And finally,
* Thomas had a duty provide "confidential, uncompromised legal advice" to the supervisors, creating a real conflict of interest.

Leonardo also wrote that, because a prosecutor must serve as a minister of justice, "the prosecutor has a duty not to take advantage of this role to unfairly influence the grand jury."

 He writes, "The Court finds that the actual and apparent conflicts of interest of the Maricopa County Attorney at the time this matter was presented to the grand jury ... constitute a violation of Wilcox's procedural rights." Then he dismissed the entire indictment against her.

We're sure as the day drags on, you'll hear all kind of protests from Thomas, Arpaio, Chief Deputy David Hendershott, and their sock puppets. You'll hear Barnett Lotstein spin this as a victory. You'll undoubtedly see some confused reporters, unable to sort out the simple eight-page truth from the spin.

But, please, don't believe them. You're smarter than that. This is a catastrophe for Thomas, plain and simple. He's Dresden in 1945, or Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, or Nicole Brown Simpson on June 12, 1994.

He got firebombed. He got destroyed.

He got killed.



UPDATE: Thomas moves to dismiss the criminal case against Judge Gary Donahoe, and the second criminal case against County Supervisor Don Stapley, pending an appeal of Leonardo's ruling and the (possible) appoint of special prosecutors.


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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske