County Attorney Andrew Thomas Fooled Us Twice With So-Called "Independent" Prosecutors — Shouldn't That Be Enough?

There are people in town horrified by Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' demagoguery, by his ambition, and by his blind alliance with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

I see all that, of course. But what really gets me about Thomas is his chutzpah. This guy never loses fair and square; in his mind, someone has always bribed the referee to ensure his defeat. And even when he's bleeding to death, he's still angrily trying to dictate the terms of his surrender.

Consider the events of the past few weeks. Thomas, it's fair to say, has been getting killed.

First was the coolly devastating testimony of Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. Like Thomas, Polk is a Republican. At one point, the two had a cordial relationship. Yet Polk testified in a hearing February 16 at the behest of defense attorneys representing Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. And her testimony was damning.

As Polk explained under oath, Thomas had recused himself from cases involving county officials, appointing her to serve as "independent" prosecutor in his stead.

But Sheriff Arpaio's men started complaining. Polk, apparently, wasn't the pushover that Arpaio's accustomed to. She thought grand juries were not to be used for fishing expeditions. She thought Arpaio overstepped by arresting Supervisor Don Stapley long before any prosecutor was willing to charge him. She also thought there was no merit to the case against Wilcox.

Horrified at the prospect of a county attorney who actually insisted that his goons build a solid case, Arpaio almost immediately began bitching to his buddy Thomas. Polk described how the sheriff's men pleaded with Thomas to kick Polk off the cases: "Take them back! Take them back!"

Thomas dithered — but ultimately he did fire his supposedly independent prosecutor, and then he took the cases back.

Naturally, Thomas did everything that Polk had resisted doing. He charged Wilcox despite a dearth of evidence, charged Stapley despite a weakly formed case, and even charged the county's presiding criminal court judge with bribery, despite being unable to explain exactly what "bribe" the judge had taken.


Polk's testimony made Thomas look weak — and highly unethical. And Thomas hardly corrected that impression when he followed her on the stand. He didn't seem familiar with his office's own racketeering lawsuit against county officials. He couldn't remember dates or times or who first discussed employing such litigation. He couldn't seem to give a straight answer.

Worst of all, he couldn't see why anyone would object to the sheriff's techniques.

As both Polk and Thomas testified, in September 2009, Arpaio arrested Stapley even though the prosecutor ostensibly handling the case, Polk, had insisted it wasn't ready. An angry Polk called a meeting and told Arpaio the arrest had been inappropriate — that it looked like retaliation against Stapley for beating the rap on a previous indictment.

"At one point," Thomas recalled on the stand, "she was saying they shouldn't be involved in the case. That struck me as odd."

So the sheriff had defied the special prosecutor to arrest a political enemy, without as much as a warrant. And Thomas found the special prosecutor's objections odd?

And if the four hours of testimony from Polk and Thomas were truly revealing, the judge's ruling in response was brutal.

One week after hearing Polk testify, Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo found that Thomas had a giant conflict of interest in prosecuting Supervisor Wilcox. He kicked him off the prosecution of the case and dismissed the entire indictment.

At that point, the writing was the on wall: Thomas was forced to dismiss the criminal cases against Supervisor Stapley and Judge Gary Donahoe, too.

It wasn't just a loss. It was a rout.

For most of us, such a giant defeat would lead to serious soul searching.

Thomas had once handpicked Sheila Polk to be his special prosecutor. Yet she concluded that he was abusing his power. And Thomas' office had praised the appointment of the special master who personally selected Judge Leonardo. (His top aide was on record saying that all Thomas wanted was an out-of-county judge, like Leonardo.) Yet Leonardo found that Thomas had serious conflicts of interest, booted him off the case, and dismissed all charges. That had to hurt.

But here's how twisted Thomas is.

It didn't seem to register at all. On the very day of Leonardo's ruling, his flacks returned to their mad spinning. (Leonardo is a leftist! This is really a victory for Thomas! Everyone, everywhere is part of an invisible machine working against him!)

And Thomas — the guy who ought to be reeling from his losses — immediately picked another fight. The county supervisors, Thomas decreed, needed to schedule a meeting that very Friday to appoint another special prosecutor.

Thomas could hand these cases off to any county attorney, anywhere in the state. He could also, presumably, give them to the state attorney general or local U.S. Attorney.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske