A last-ditch effort by ex-prosecutors Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander to avoid a $101,294 legal sanction for abusing their power has failed.
The ruling against the pair by Arizona U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan means that disbarred ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas — who would have benefited if the women had been successful — also has lost again.
Alexander and Aubuchon sued the county in 2014, claiming they were told it would pay their legal fees if they got sued for ethical violations and that the county wasn't playing fair because present County Attorney Bill Montgomery paid more than $15,000 in legal fees in the same case for his star forfeiture lawyer, Peter Spaw.
Logan's order grants summary judgment to Maricopa County in the case, ruling that Alexander didn't file her claim correctly and that no evidence existed to support Aubuchon's argument that she had a contract with Thomas in which he'd agreed the county would pay her legal fees if she got sued for ethics violations.
However, the judge showed mercy on the two women by not forcing them to pay the county's legal fees stemming from their federal lawsuit. Even though their claim had little merit and its failure means they should be paying their opponents' fees, Logan noted that the women are broke.
“Assessing fees against Plaintiffs would result in extreme hardship and would be an exercise in futility,” Logan wrote.
Thomas, Aubuchon, and Alexander infamously joined forces with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the late 2000s in a corrupt coup against county officials and their lawyers. With the help of Aubuchon and Alexander, two top acolytes of Thomas', trumped-up criminal charges and a bogus RICO complaint were filed against county judges, the Board of Supervisors, and others. A state Supreme Court disciplinary panel later deemed Thomas and Arpaio an "unholy collaboration."
The scheme fell apart under scrutiny by the legal system.
Following years of intense, bizarre feuding between county officials that was at times entertaining and frightening, Thomas and Aubuchon were disbarred, and Alexander's law license was suspended, in high-profile disciplinary proceedings.
The State Bar of Arizona wanted the three to pay restitution of $554,000, but Disciplinary Judge William O'Neil ratcheted that back to the current amount of $101,294. Maricopa County paid an additional $1.2 million to provide a legal defense for the legitimate ethical complaints against Thomas, Aubuchon, and Alexander.
The $101,294 is due "jointly and severally," a legal term meaning they are each responsible for the whole debt, not just one-third of it. If Aubuchon and Alexander had won the case, the debt would have been erased for Thomas, as well. But that didn't happen, so they're all still on the hook. The legal bill must be satisfied in full by one or more of them before any of three have a chance of getting their law licenses back.
Arpaio, not being a lawyer, escaped discipline for his office's bad behavior during the feud and was re-elected to a sixth four-year term in 2012.
The three disgraced ex-prosecutors haven't been able to work as lawyers without their licenses, naturally.
How Thomas supports himself now is anyone's guess, but he can't be making much money off his esoteric, conservative books or his anti-ISIS website. He still can burn up public money, though: In 2014, he managed to spend $750,000 in Clean Elections cash for his failed gubernatorial bid.
Aubuchon and Alexander have emphasized in court motions how hard their financial situations have become since the state yanked their licenses.
Aubuchon had to cash in her retirement savings to keep the lights on at her Tempe home and pay other bills. She declared bankruptcy in 2012 after a county judge sanctioned her, former Arpaio top commander Dave Hendershott, and their Montana lawyer, Ed Moriarity, $210,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit against county officials.
Alexander, in one of the lawsuit pleadings, was said to have “developed serious health problems, including a painful hiatel hernia last year as a result of stress from working long hours as a journalist, barely able to afford her four children, and unable to make payments on her ballooning law school loans.” She created a GoFundMe page last year and has collected $1,473.
Jack Levine, the pair's Phoenix lawyer, didn't return a message. But Alexander, in an email to New Times, says she'll be appealing Logan's ruling.
In total, the county feud cost taxpayers an estimated $45.5 million in legal fees and settlements.
See below for Judge Logan's order:
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