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

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In other words, hers is not a job to be handed off lightly, as a reward, to a longtime political confidante.

Horne's office cited Chenal's proficiency in Spanish (she's a Cuban-born, naturalized American citizen) and sent me several letters of recommendation, written by attorneys and judges, in support of Chenal's 1999 application to be a Superior Court judge.

Not to knock all this, but there are plenty of high school foreign-language teachers who can boast fluency in Spanish and English. As for the letters, they were written before Chenal's "lost years" and her suspension from the Bar.

Responding to my questions via e-mail, Horne pointed to a glowing review from a supervisor of Chenal's at the AG's Office. It was a sort of exit interview from her strategic-planning job before she moved up the ladder to her current position. Horne also explained to me that the "important asset" Chenal possesses is "knowing [her] way around the courtroom."

The AG pooh-poohed her past misdeeds as the result of a rough patch in her life and the aforementioned medical issues. Still, Horne distanced himself from the decision to elevate Chenal.

"I did not make the decision to make her the extradition lawyer," Horne wrote. "That was made by the section chief. I agree with it but had no function in the decision, as it did not require my approval."

The section chief on whom Horne's hanging this decision is Ted Campagnolo, a prosecutor in the AG's Office.

Interestingly, Campagnolo is one of 57 applicants who are vying for appointment to vacancies on the Maricopa County Superior Court. If he succeeds, that'll be one less person around to help Chenal do her job, which, by all accounts, is not easy.

Adrian Fontes, the assistant AG who held Chenal's current position under former AG Goddard in 2004 and 2005, described the work as difficult but rewarding.

He pointed out that AG offices in border states are in a unique position: Federal law enforcement must get special approval to operate in Mexico while state law enforcement can enter and leave the country at will.

In extradition cases, the AG's Office has to work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice and officials in Mexico.

"You not only have to have your legal ducks in a row, you have to have your intelligence ducks in a row, too," Fontes told me.

That is, you must know where the fugitive is, as well as the intricacies of preparing warrants for extradition that will be upheld by Mexican judges. And to do this, you have to have solid relationships with Mexican law enforcement.

"If this person doesn't have any connections in Mexico and hasn't been to Mexico to build a rapport with these law enforcement [agencies'] boots on the ground, [she's] going to have a difficult time being successful," he said. "Unless the Mexican government is really cooperative."

Fontes said he knew nothing of Chenal and had never met her, so he didn't want to comment on her qualifications.

Felecia Rotellini, Horne's 2010 Democratic rival for the AG's Office, was more critical of the Chenal choice and was concerned that the best person had not been chosen for the position.

"When dealing with foreign governments and extradition issues, the attorney general must have someone in charge who is qualified and experienced to make sure procedures go as smoothly as possible," she replied when asked for comment on Chenal's hiring.

She added: "The attorney general is Arizona's lawyer and the steward of taxpayers' money, with an ethical duty to hire the most competent person for every job in that office . . . especially the positions with the highest salaries. Those jobs are reserved for the most qualified."

Ideally, they should be. But when you're Tom Horne's gal pal, the standards go on a four-year cruise.

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