Joe Arpaio, Andrew Thomas and the Hunt for Judge Gary Donahoe

There are 1,084 process servers licensed in Arizona, and only one of them has ever been prosecuted for threatening the county's longtime presiding criminal court judge with bodily harm.

Yet in December, when Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas — angered by a series of adverse rulings — decided to take on Judge Gary Donahoe, it apparently wasn't enough to file a racketeering lawsuit against him, alleging that he was part of a criminal enterprise.

It wasn't enough, either, to file three felony charges against Donahoe, despite a complete lack of evidence.

And to deliver the legal papers to Donahoe, they couldn't simply use sheriff's deputies. They had to hire Jack Cox — surely the only licensed process server in the entire country who once told his probation officer that his life's goal was to destroy Donahoe.

Old-timers may remember Cox as the owner of the Great Alaskan Bush Company, a notorious Grand Avenue nudie bar. They may remember that Cox was charged with possessing narcotics — newspaper accounts at the time say that Cox tasked the bar's employees with purchasing coke on his behalf. They may also recall a cover story that my colleague Paul Rubin wrote in 1997, which detailed how a probate court-appointed fiduciary was arrested for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from her clients, including Jack Cox's mother.

But they probably don't know that, a decade before he became a process server, Cox was charged with five misdemeanors — for threatening violence against Donahoe.

At that time, Donahoe was the probate court commissioner in charge of Cox's case, and despite all evidence to the contrary, Cox became convinced that Donahoe was in cahoots with the fiduciary and looting his mother's estate.

In March 1997, Cox left a flurry of nasty messages on Donahoe's answering machine. The Sheriff's Office concluded that at least four of them used "obscene, loud, or profane language" and another threatened violence.

Even after being charged in connection with the phone calls, Cox was defiant. He told his probation officer that Donahoe was a "corrupt, evil slime" and "a disgrace to the judicial system." He announced that his life's goal was to "acquire great wealth and buy a judge to have Gary Donahoe declared insane and incompetent" and to "take all of his dignity, assets, and freedom."

Cox's probation officer concluded, "He has little or no remorse for his actions and virtually no respect for the court system."

Donahoe declined to ask the judge on the case for jail time after Cox pleaded guilty to one of the counts — but he did note, for the record, that Cox was "delusional." You think?

But times change. Being delusional and having no respect for the court system might've netted you a misdemeanor charge in 1997. Last winter, it was far more likely to put you in cahoots with the county attorney.

Donahoe's lawyer, Michael Manning, tells me that Donahoe was walking into the courthouse December 2 when he brushed past the man who'd threatened him.

"I just served you with a lawsuit," Jack Cox told him.

Cox says all this is one giant coincidence. The sheriff surely had no idea who he was or his history with Donahoe, he says. (Anyway, he insists, he has no hard feelings toward Donahoe; he now respects the court and understands that Donahoe was duped by the stealing fiduciary just as badly as he was.)

Finally, Cox notes that his company was hired — not Cox specifically.

But the company is registered in Cox's name. And, interestingly, Cox won't say who hired him or where he was given the papers.

"You might want to talk to them about them," he says of Arpaio and Thomas. (A sheriff's spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.)

To Michael Manning, Cox's presence cannot be a coincidence. And neither, he says, was the sheriff's decision to make Donahoe's personal information public, right down to his Social Security number.

When New Times published Sheriff Arpaio's home address online, Arpaio demanded that the newspaper be prosecuted for causing a threat to his security — and Thomas appointed a bulldog special prosecutor to do just that.

But when Arpaio and Thomas targeted Donahoe last December, "security" didn't even merit lip service. Never mind that Donahoe has sent hundreds, if not thousands, of violent criminals to prison during his decade on the bench. When Arpaio and Thomas charged Donahoe with three felonies for essentially ruling against them in court, they gleefully splashed his home address all over their Web sites — and, for would-be ID thieves, they helpfully included his Social Security number, too.

It's wildly hypocritical, over-the-top malicious — and classic Arpaio and Thomas.

"These people," Manning says, "miss no way to intimidate."

It's been six months since Andrew Thomas filed bogus criminal charges against Donahoe.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske