Lisa Aubuchon Drove Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' Political Prosecutions -- Now the Feds May Have Them Both In Their Crosshairs

During his controversial tenure as Maricopa County attorney, Andrew Thomas may have styled himself as a "tough" prosecutor — but insiders knew that the real iron in Thomas' proverbial fist came from Lisa Aubuchon.

The notoriously aggressive Aubuchon took on high-profile political cases with a vengeance.

She served as lead prosecutor on virtually every one of Thomas' so-called corruption cases, filing indictments against county supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox, pursuing a probe into the county's court tower construction project, and serving as a key player behind the felony charges filed late last year against the county's presiding criminal court judge.

No case was beneath her. Even though both ACLU Legal Director Dan Pochoda and Chandler Police Sergeant Tom Lovejoy were charged with misdemeanors, Aubuchon took both cases (for trespassing and animal cruelty, respectively) to trial. Same with a case against the owners of a popular Mexican eatery charged with "dirty dining" in another of the office's publicity-driven prosecutions.

The final score?

Not one of Aubuchon's high-profile cases resulted in a conviction.

Now, in what must be a delicious irony for her many detractors, it's Lisa Aubuchon who is under criminal investigation.

When Thomas resigned last month to run for Arizona attorney general, one of the first acts of his successor, Rick Romley, was to put Aubuchon on paid leave, pending the completion of an internal investigation.

And New Times has learned that Aubuchon's future may be even more precarious. She recently wrote to county administrators, asking for their help in retaining a lawyer for a grand jury matter, according to a confidential source.

In the course of determining whether the county should be paying for a lawyer, Aubuchon was questioned about the matter. (Policy holds that employees who are called as grand jury witnesses get a lawyer paid by the county, but potential "targets" or "subjects" do not.) At that point, they determined Aubuchon is potentially a subject of the federal grand jury investigating Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Thomas for abuse of power and other alleged wrongdoing.

Asked for public records related to the matter, county officials refused to release anything, or even confirm their existence, saying their release could "jeopardize an ongoing investigation or future prosecution." Both a county spokeswoman and a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined comment.

Legal observers say it's highly unusual for prosecutors to face criminal charges for their official conduct. But the county attorney's actions in the last year have been highly unusual, too.

Thomas and Aubuchon filed a racketeering case against county officials and private attorneys alleging a broad criminal conspiracy, only to drop it without proving a thing. They secured such a sloppy grand jury indictment against Supervisor Wilcox that, in one instance, Wilcox faced felony charges for voting to award a grant to a local nonprofit — when public records showed she wasn't even present for the vote in question.

They turned over a series of politically charged criminal cases to an "independent" prosecutor from another county, only to grab them back when that prosecutor didn't do what the Sheriff's Office wanted.

Finally, they brought criminal charges against the county's then-presiding criminal court judge, Gary Donahoe, without convening a grand jury or conducting anything that even paid lip service to a thorough, impartial investigation.

That case, too, fizzled and died.

Paul Charlton is a former U.S. Attorney for Arizona now in private practice at Gallagher & Kennedy. (He represented Supervisor Stapley in Thomas' attempt to prosecute him for filling out his financial-disclosure statements incorrectly.)

Charlton says he is unfamiliar with specifics of the ongoing federal investigation, but he notes that certain decisions by Thomas and Aubuchon could leave them vulnerable.

"Prosecutors are usually fairly well insulated from allegations of criminal conduct because they can usually stand behind a grand jury or behind the court," Charlton says. "They can say, 'Someone else authorized my decision.'"

Maybe not this time.

Sources in and out of the County Attorney's Office say Thomas and Aubuchon didn't bother with protocol in the Donahoe "case," which should have included extended witness interviews and legal analysis by more-seasoned office prosecutors.

Instead, they acted in cahoots with top officials at the Sheriff's Office to pursue a case devoid of actual evidence.

"It opens them up a fair amount to the potential for prosecution," says Charlton.

One key to criminal charges against Aubuchon or Thomas may rest in Title 18 of the United States Criminal Code, Sections 241-242.

That law makes it a crime for anyone — including a public official — "under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, [to] willfully subject any person in any State . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States."

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