Attorney General Horne Hired Carmen Chenal to a Highly Paid Top Post -- 'Cause She's His Goomba

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Essentially, Chenal wanted to be readmitted without doing the two years' probation she had agreed to in 2005. But the hearing revealed the extent of Chenal's past mental problems.

Chenal, her lawyer, and her doctors argued that her life spiraled out of control from 1999 to 2003. In 1999, she divorced her spouse of many years, Tom Chenal, who, oddly, is employed by Horne as the chief counsel of the AG's public advocacy division.

While Chenal was raising her three kids, her mother was dying. Chenal had to care for her, forcing Chenal to move her law practice into her home.

Chenal's brothers caused her additional heartache. One, an alcoholic, moved in with her, as well. The other, a schizophrenic, stopped by for periodic visits. The result, she said, was "chaos."

She sought out psychiatrist Emerson Bueno, who testified during Chenal's hearing that his patient was suffering from "major depressive episodes" in 1999 to 2003, as well as "anxiety episodes." She met the criteria for "major depressive recurrence," and Bueno diagnosed her as having "an underlying attention deficit hyperactive disorder."

Nevertheless, Bueno told hearing officer Judge Louis Araneta that Chenal was stable and fit for work.

Chenal's 2005 surgery for an ophthalmic brain aneurysm also was the subject of much discussion, with Chenal and her lawyer contending that her poor judgment and legal screw-ups resulted from the aneurysm developing in her body in the years before the surgery.

Her medical witnesses testified that the developing aneurysm could have affected Chenal's decision-making ability.

Neuropsychologist H. Daniel Blackwood said the only residual problem Chenal still suffers from the surgery is some reduction in motor speed in her left hand. He also noted in his testimony that Chenal may have difficulty with "assertive communication."

You know, like the kind required by an attorney with a challenging position in the public sector.

Horne also testified at Chenal's reinstatement hearing, giving her high marks for her intelligence, her work ethic, and her legal skills. Heck, he even said he goes to Chenal for advice on politics and other matters outside her purview.

The hearing took place in November 2010, when Horne was AG-elect. He vowed to hire the beleaguered Chenal, if she were to be reinstated to the Bar.

Bar counsel Harriet Bernick told Judge Araneta that she had contacted the AG's Office, then helmed by Democrat Terry Goddard, and discovered that there was no hard-and-fast rule about employing lawyers with previous Bar suspensions. But she noted that division supervisors within the office would be "very reticent" to hire someone with such a disciplinary background.

Horne insisted this would not be an obstacle.

"The supervisors that I would hire would have no reluctance to hire Ms. Chenal," he informed the court.

Indeed, even before Chenal was readmitted to the Bar, Horne hired her as strategic planning director, at a salary of $80,150, starting on January 1. In April, she was promoted to her current position in charge of foreign prosecutions and extraditions.

The conditions of her reinstatement say she must serve her two years' probation with the Bar's MAP program, continue to see her psychiatrist for medication monitoring, and meet regularly with a counselor or therapist, as approved by the MAP director.

The reinstatement report agreed that Chenal had "medical and other personal issues" from 1999 to 2003 that contributed to her 2005 suspension. And it observed that the medical experts had testified that there are "no physical or mental conditions" to prevent her reinstatement to the Bar.

It also ordered that if Chenal returns to private practice, she must go through another probationary hoop and sign up with the Bar's Law Office Management Assistance Program.

Chenal announced during the hearing, "I have no intention of returning to private practice. I really like public service a lot."

Particularly if you can score a job in public service that pays $108,000.

I'm not arguing that Chenal should not have another crack at practicing law. I'm just not so sure she should be doing so on the public's dime.

Sure, politicians hire cronies all the time. And I reckon if Chenal were in a room at the AG's Office pushing relatively unimportant paper, it would be one thing. (Horne brought a lot of loyalists who had worked under him at the Department of Education to the AG's Office. Chenal's hardly the only one.)

But considering the importance of Chenal's position, and her lack of experience in criminal law, her unfortunate legal history raises a red flag the size of Russia.

In her new role, Chenal is responsible for helping to pursue fugitives who have committed major felony crimes, including murder, and have hightailed it out of the country, often to Mexico. She prepares the legal paperwork that will either extradite these criminals back to the States or see to it that they are prosecuted in other countries. There is no room for error.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons