Pamela Overton of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, as pictured in a recent edition of Arizona Woman
By Ray Stern
The Maricopa County Elections Department handed off an investigation into a mysterious $105,000 Republican Party donation to an outside law firm last week, rather than assign it to County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office.
That's because giving the job to Thomas could appear to be a conflict of interest: The Republican Party is accused of intending to use the money to run sleazy television ads that attacked the Democratic opponents of both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Thomas.
Trouble is, the firm reviewing the case is Greenberg Traurig, which has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from Thomas' office in recent years for work on high-profile cases like the investigation and prosecution of Sandra Dowling, county schools superintendent.
One of the firm's lawyers, Pamela Overton (pictured above), is Thomas' counsel in his fight against complaints by the State Bar of Arizona. Thomas' office also paid Overton to review and black out portions of documents related to Dennis Wilenchik, the former special prosecutor who Thomas sicced on New Times last year, leading to the arrests of New Times executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin.
County records show Overton was paid $5,647.50 to review documents requested by Paul Rubin of New Times for his article, "Head on a Skewer." An Arizona Republic article from December states Overton also heavily redacted documents which that newspaper had requested. (That didn't stop the Republic's Arizona Woman magazine from giving Overton 2008 Woman of the Year).
These credentials, it could be argued, imply Greenberg Traurig might have a conflict of interest in this case. Hypothetically, someone at the firm might worry that if the donation investigation slams Thomas, Sheriff Arpaio and the Republican Party, the county gravy train could come to a screeching halt.
But Karen Osborne, director of the county elections department, tells me she's comfortable with Greenberg Traurig handling the investigation and doesn't think there's a conflict of interest. The attorney for the Democratic Party was made aware of the firm's past work and agreed "this is good to go," Osborne says.
The lawyer handling the investigation will be James Ullman, she says. But maybe that means it's the Republicans who should be worried: Campaign finance data shows Ullman gave $500 to the Democratic Party in 2006.