Analysis by Michael Lacey
A new and refreshingly competent political star, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, emerged from the startling judicial proceeding held yesterday afternoon in a basement courtroom in downtown Phoenix.
And federal prosecutors, who've convened a grand jury to investigate Sheriff Joe Arpaio, were handed unimpeachable evidence that America's most notorious lawman targeted enemies.
Polk must be added to the Justice Department's witness list. And only her courage under fire keeps her out of the witness protection program after brazen threats from Arpaio's top goon, Chief Deputy David Hendershott.
Polk's testimony raised one question and one question only: Who will file nominating papers to enter her name in the Republican primary for Attorney General in opposition to Arpaio's top enabler, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas?
Former presiding judge, attorney Colin Campbell, sought to have Thomas disqualified from prosecuting Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. The dogged Campbell was assisted by Kathleen O'Meara. Their case was simple: Thomas had already sued Wilcox and therefore he could not, additionally, indict her.
That is rightfully called a conflict of interest.
In his civil suit, Thomas alleged a vast and, frankly, nutty conspiracy that sought to deprive him of the right to practice law. Said conspiracy had more moving parts than the Protocols of Zion, but involved judges getting a new courthouse -- for which the robes were so grateful that they willingly subverted Thomas' unending crusade to indict politicians.
"I want to be able to do my job," Thomas told Campbell. "I can't prosecute public officials."
(Not to quibble, but the reality is he can't successfully prosecute public officials. He files the cases like a Xerox machine.)
Referring to Mary Rose Wilcox, Don Stapley and the rest of Arizona's elected officials, Thomas asked: "Are they above the law?"
"Are you?" shot back
Dan Rather Colin Campbell.
Despite a tingling Schadenfreude when Thomas was questioned by Campbell - hey, Thomas and Arpaio are the pair of deuces who issued secret grand jury subpoenas targeting this newspaper's reporters and readers and then arrested me and publisher Jim Larkin after we wrote about it - the witness no one could take their eyes off of was Yavapai prosecutor Polk.
She made several things clear: Law enforcement works for her; Mary Rose Wilcox did not break the law; the case had yet to be made against Don Stapley; finally, and most critically, Sheriff Arpaio could not legally use the grand jury to go fishing for dirt on political opponents.
And here is where federal prosecutors must pick up the trail in their investigation of Arpaio.
Arpaio and his wrecking crew were so off the reservation that, back in August 2009, Polk sent a letter, a warning shot across the bow, to Chief Hendershott.
The two page letter concluded:
1. The function of the grand jury is to investigate criminal offenses, not the conduct of individuals.
2. Subpoenas may only issue when there is some knowledge or information that crime has been committed.
3. There is no power to institute an inquiry on the chance or speculation that a crime may be discovered.
4. The 4th Amendment provides protection against the grand jury subpoena duces tecum that is too sweeping in its terms to be regarded as reasonable.
Sheriff Arpaio ignored the prosecutor .
After all charges were dropped against Stapley, the Sheriff arrested the Supervisor without an indictment.
Polk called a meeting with all concerned.
"I began by directly asking Sheriff Arpaio why he'd arrested Stapley after being told the case was not ready," testified Polk.
Characterizing the arrest as appearing "vindictive" Polk explained: " It looked like Mr. Stapley was arrested for exercising his right to legal recourse."
In short order Polk was thrown off the case by Thomas, who resumed control of the prosecutions.
Latina Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who loudly condemned the Sheriff's round-ups of Mexicans without papers, joined Stapley in a proverbial holding cell.
"Is There No One Who Will Stand Up To Thomas, Arpaio" called the editorial page of the Arizona Republic on Dec 16, 2009. The morning paper outlined the problem: "...They filed a federal conspiracy complaint against, essentially, all of their political enemies. They lodged a criminal complaint against the presiding criminal court judge. They filed additional criminal charges against one county supervisor and freshly indicted a second..."
Polk too was stunned.
Six days later Polk stood up.
When word reached Arpaio's office that Polk would go public with her concerns, Chief Hendershott left a recorded message warning that he intended to sic the FBI on her.
In a guest column in the morning newspaper on December 22nd, Sheila Polk shot the Sheriff.
"...I can no longer sit by quietly and watch from a distance the abuses of power by Sheriff Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas..."
Chief Hendershott followed up his threat and went to the FBI. (His crude behavior isn't a matter of leaving a trail of bread crumbs for the Justice Department to follow; he's depositing entire loaves of bread.)
Yesterday Polk described the conduct of Arpaio and Thomas: "Shocking...I could not believe it."
Here was an insider who broke ranks and confirmed what we have written for years: Thomas and Arpaio are out of control.
The feds are investigating Arpaio's abuse of office, and here is a one-time member of team Thomas confirming the Justice Department's worst suspicions.
She did not mince words.
"Not one shred of evidence," said Polk of the charges of bribery filed against Judge Gary Donahoe.
A potential "Polk for Attorney General Committee" of Arizona's most dangerous lawyers sat in the front row of the courtroom to witness the proceedings: David Derickson, Craig Mehrens, Jordan Green, amongst others.
Questioned during a break by a member of the press, the defense attorneys appeared to savor the spectacle, though the quote-averse Jordan Green refused to confirm that he was, in fact, Jordan Green. Only Tom "Nine Fingers" Henze was absent from this murder's row, no doubt out representing a murderer.
Proving that court officials have a teenager's sense of irony, members of the press were planted in the jury box. Robert Robb, Rachel Stockman, Michael Kiefer, Veronica Sanchez, Gilbert Zermano, Paul Rubin, Sarah Fenske and others demonstrated that the media have less to invest in wardrobe than even government lawyers like Christina Fitzpatrick from the Attorney General's office.
Today, 24 hours removed from testimony,we consider recent proceedings. Is it difficult to believe that end times have unfolded in front of us? To the North, Canadians demonstrated that they could not manage ice or snow; in the South, Peyton Manning showed he could not manage the renegades of the Who Dat nation; and in the East, a Phoenix dog, managed a triumph at Westminster (an Affenpinscher, the Republic informed us, meant "a monkey-like terrier", as if all terriers weren't monkey-like). Here, in the West, we witnessed Arpaio's apocalypse.
The sense of world's colliding accelerated when word swept through the courtroom that private investigator Mary Durand had been so moved by the testimony she'd observed that she was renouncing alcohol.
Members of the legal community gathered in her living room as the sun finally set. With drink in hand, Durand scotched the rumor; Arpaio had nothing to do with her decision.
Yes, she was indeed renouncing rum. Tomorrow. And only for Lent.