Judge Orders Thomas to Show Conflicts in Case Vs. County Supervisors; Kicks Arpaio Off Lawsuit

The lawsuit filed against the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors by County Attorney Andrew Thomas can proceed, a judge has ruled, but Thomas must disclose any potential conflicts of interest in the case.

Retired Superior Court Judge Donald Daughton also kicked Sheriff Joe Arpaio off the lawsuit, which Thomas and Arpaio filed after the five-member Board of Supervisors stripped Thomas of the ability to handle the county's civil lawsuits. If you'll recall, the firing of Thomas by the board came soon after Thomas and Arpaio began a criminal investigation of Supervisor Don Stapley.

Forget soap operas -- county news these days provides the most compelling drama north of the Mexican border.

In a separate-but-related ruling,
Daughton denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Thomas against
the county's lawyer in all this, Thomas Irvine, who is now -- with
former county prosecutor Richard Romley -- doing the civil lawsuit job
from which Thomas has been booted.

Thomas has 20 days to disclose his conflicts as defined by the Professional Rules of Conduct for lawyers here and here.

This case seems like it might soon move from simmer to boil.

Here's a comment just put out by County Manager David Smith:

February 27, 2009

Statement from County Manager David Smith on today's court ruling

Obviously, we are very pleased with today's ruling from Judge Donald Daughton. The judge's decision confirms the same legal points the Supervisors have been making. The board simply wants the county attorney to disclose his potential conflicts of interest. This ruling orders Mr. Thomas to do just that, and in the next 20 days. It shouldn't take a judge's ruling to force the county attorney to follow ethical rules.

Our motion to dismiss the sheriff was also granted.

This issue has always been about the county receiving competent, non-political advice, free from conflicts of interest. It has never been about personalities or politics.

The real tragedy is that during an economic downturn, so much precious public funding has been diverted away from legitimate public service to pursue a legal tug of war that should be handled outside the courts.

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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.