Maricopa County Craziness

Lawyer for Don Stapley Says County Attorney's Office, Not Stapley, Failed to Ensure County Adopted Campaign Finance Laws

Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney in Arizona and lawyer for indicted County Supervisor Don Stapley, says Andrew Thomas has only one person to blame -- himself -- for the embarrassing dismissal of 51 of 117 criminal counts against Stapley.

As our follow-up post last night related, Thomas, the county attorney, claims that Stapley was "able to take advantage" of allegedly poor performance as a Supervisor. Thomas was irked after a judge tossed out the counts because of a technicality: Prosecutors -- and everyone else -- believed that county officials were required to disclose campaign finances in accordance with state law, but it turned out the county had never adopted the law properly for its own officials. Fifty-one of the charges brought by Thomas' office, as we now know, were built on a hollow foundation.

As it stands now, "there is no current requirement for a county elected official to file anything," Charlton says.  

Thomas, in his statement yesterday, implies that Stapley, as one of five Supervisors, failed in his duties by not comprehending the error and using his power to raise and vote on the issue with his colleagues. Stapley's been a Supervisor since 1994, after all.

But Charlton says the responsibility to bring the legal loophole to light belonged to the county attorney's office, which -- until the county feud heated up a few months ago -- had previously staffed every Board of Supervisors meeting with someone to provide legal guidance.

"So the individual who is complaining that Mr. Stapley has found a way out of his responsibilities here is the very same individual who was himself responsible..." Charlton says.

It seems more likely that an underling at the county attorney's office should have caught this problem than Thomas himself. But the top dog at any organization has to take responsibility, we suppose, since they're the ones in charge.

The problem stems from the year 1984, when the state made major changes to the financial disclosure law, says Charlton. That was 10 years before Stapley took office, Charlton notes.

It was also more than 20 years before Thomas took office.

Let's see, who was county attorney for most of that time? Oh, that's right -- Rick Romley, who's now working for the Board of Supervisors as a legal consultant.

Maybe it's best not to think about this too much.

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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.