Maricopa County Craziness

Decision in State Bar Disciplinary Case Not Expected 'Til Spring; Andrew Thomas, Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander Face Punishment

The Arizona State Bar's independent counsel team rested its case today in the disciplinary proceeding against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and two of his former employees.

The Bar's lawyers announced their decision after Thomas gave his second day of testimony in the case that could cost him his law license. Lawyers for Thomas and former deputy county attorneys Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander, meanwhile, will continue to call witnesses into next week. They're defending against charges that they acted unethically while waging a legal war against their political enemies.

Jennifer Liewer, spokeswoman for the state Supreme Court, says next week probably will be the last week of the hearings. We spoke to her about what will happen next. But the upshot is this:

Word on what punishment, if any, Thomas, Aubuchon, and Alexander get won't be announced until sometime this coming spring.

Thomas and Aubuchon face possible disbarment, which means they would no longer be able to practice law in Arizona. (Can you say, "Want fries with that?")

Alexander faces suspension of her license, possible for a few years.

The disciplinary system isn't quite like a trial -- there won't be any in-court closing arguments, Liewer says.

After the trio's defense rests, each side will start preparing a written brief containing their closing-argument "proposed conclusions of law and findings of fact." The Bar's Disciplinary Judge, William O'Neil, will set a schedule for when those should be turned in, and that schedule will be released to the public.

But the two sides -- the State Bar on one, the former prosecutors on the other -- won't turn in their briefs simultaneously. The Bar team will submit its report first, and then the defense gets to reply later; O'Neil will set the dates for each submittal. Bar lawyers will have the last word -- they'll get to turn in one more reply to the defense's brief.

After that final brief, the Bar's hearing panel -- including O'Neil -- will have 30 days to file its own findings and suggest punishment, if necessary.

With the holiday season approaching, Liewer says, this will all will probably occur in the "first few months of 2012," with the panel's decision being announced in the spring.

The disciplinary panel's decision will be final. But within 10 days of the decision, Thomas, Aubuchon and Alexander can appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. And you can bet they will.

This means the public will have plenty of time to go over the archived videos on the state Supreme Court's website, in case anybody wants to see any hearings they missed over the last several weeks. Here's the link.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.