Maricopa County Craziness

Lisa Aubuchon Advised Sheriff Even While Case Was With "Independent" Prosecutor

Yesterday's court proceedings examining the question of whether the Maricopa County Attorney's Office must be removed from prosecuting Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox contained a number of big revelations, as we detailed in this earlier blog post.

But one of the most fascinating pieces of news for anyone following these cases involves the very prosecutor at the hearing representing the County Attorney's Office, Lisa Aubuchon.

We've had our fun with Aubuchon before -- as Thomas' point-woman for high-profile prosecutions, she has a pitiable record of blowing big cases. She was also at the helm of the really stupid RICO claim that Thomas' office filed, claiming county officials are in a broad "criminal conspiracy" against him.

But yesterday's hearing brought to light startling new information about Aubuchon's involvement with the case against Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley -- long after Thomas' office supposedly recused itself and sent the case to Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

As Polk explained on the stand, she had told Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his chief deputy, David Hendershott, that their second criminal case against Supervisor Don Stapley might have merit, but it needed more work before going for an indictment.

She was shocked when Arpaio and Hendershott went ahead and ordered Stapley's arrest anyway -- sheriff's deputies cuffed and booked the supervisor on charges that no prosecutor had signed off on.

Polk convened a meeting in Phoenix the next Thursday to explain her displeasure (and detail how the arrest might lead to a charge of "vindictive" behavior on the sheriff's part). The sheriff's office, oddly, invited Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon to attend. (We write "oddly," of course, because Thomas had kicked the case over to Polk; she was supposed to be acting independently of him.)

At the meeting, after the sheriff ranted and raved about how he could arrest anyone he wanted to arrest ("he can arrest anyone he has probable cause to arrest," Polk said, stating the sheriff's position at the meeting), Polk said she would give the cases back to Thomas if that's what he wanted. She insisted that she didn't want to quit, but it was his call.

Then Aubuchon piped up.

"Ms. Aubuchon agreed that further investigation was needed in the Stapley case," Polk testified. "She outlined further advice she had given to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

At this point, Wilcox' lawyer, Colin Campbell, practically began to sputter. Aubuchon had given advice to the Sheriff's Office -- even after her office had recused itself from the case?

"I was surprised," Polk acknowledged. "I agreed with the analysis Ms. Aubuchon had done. I was surprised she was giving direction to the Sheriff's Office at all."

So much for having Thomas appoint an "independent" prosecutor!

Much later in the hearing, Aubuchon came up again as a chief topic of inquiry. This time, County Attorney Andrew Thomas was on the stand, defending his actions.

Attorney Campbell asked him at great length about his racketeering claim against county officials. Considering how crappy the complaint is widely regarded to be, Thomas was strangely non-defensive. He admitted to helping to conceive and author it.

In fact, Thomas took responsibility for the one part of the complaint that has drawn the most mockery. The lawsuit actually details how attorneys for the county supposedly laughed at prosecutor Aubuchon at a hearing as she was being "verbally assailed."

"I, I think that was added or in the complaint because, in my mind, it served as a metaphor for what was wrong with that situation," Thomas explained. He noted that the lawyers had helped strip away his civil division -- yet were "laughing as the prosecutor attempted to do her job.

"While it may seem like a personal thing, it struck me as a metaphor for everything that's wrong in Maricopa County for the last year and a half," he said.

Oddly, we prefer to read the allegation as a metaphor for everything that's wrong with Thomas' racketeering claim. (Paranoia and emotion trump solid legal analysis, for one thing.) 

As Thomas would later say in the hearing, with a nod toward the press scrum sitting in the jury box to hear his testimony, "This is not a jury of my peers here!"

Not sure about any of the other reporters, but we took that as a compliment.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske