Maricopa County Craziness

John Leonardo, New AZ US Attorney, Recuses Himself From Sheriff Joe Arpaio Abuse-of-Power Investigation; As Judge, Ruled That Arpaio Did Abuse Power

See also: John Leonardo, Arizona's New U.S. Attorney, is No Fan of Sheriff Arpaio

John Leonardo, the new Arizona U.S. Attorney, believes that Joe Arpaio abused his power as Maricopa County Sheriff.

Leonardo said so in a ruling back in 2010, when he was a Pima County Superior Court judge.

However, because of that ruling, Leonardo doesn't want to handle any aspect of the abuse-of-power investigation believed to still be underway at the federal prosecutor's office.

Leonardo, an Obama appointee who took office this month, commented on the situation this morning on KJZZ-FM radio:

I have personally recused myself from participating in any decision or even the information stream within the office that may relate to any such investigation because of my ruling as a judge that touched on the Sheriff's Department earlier. So, just to avoid any possible appearance of being biased or prejudiced, I'm just not going to be involved.

Notice how Leonardo cagily doesn't admit there actually is such an investigation going on. The abuse-of-power investigation was certainly going on in 2010, when witnesses were called to talk about the issues before a federal grand jury. But the feds have ignored opportunities in the more recent past to confirm whether the probe was still hot.

We used to get excited rumor calls at least once a month by tipsters who believed the feds were going to take imminent action against Arpaio. Those phone calls stopped a few months ago.

In his 2010 ruling, Leonardo smacked down Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas in their unethical attack on County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, which was conducted as part of an overall campaign against certain county leaders, judges and lawyers.

Thomas had created a "political alliance with the Maricopa County Sheriff who misused the power of his office to target members of the (Board of Supervisors) for criminal investigation," Leonardo's ruling states.

The state Supreme Court disciplinary panel that disbarred Thomas made similar comments about Arpaio's nefarious involvement, calling their collaboration "unholy."

As the panel noted, Arpaio isn't subject to the attorney discipline process. But panelists made it clear Arpaio would have been disbarred, too, if he was a lawyer.

Instead of being held accountable for running roughshod over the law while trying to nail his political enemies, Arpaio appears to be sailing toward re-election. Only voters or the U.S. Attorney's Office can hold him back. And the new federal prosecutor in town, Leonardo, will let others handled the sheriff problem.

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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.