It's a small victory, and a technical one.
But an order yesterday from Pima County Superior Judge John Leonardo could have a major impact on the resolution of the criminal case against Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.
Leonardo, who was assigned to hear the case against Wilcox by Special Master Ruth McGregor, ruled that a hearing scheduled for February 16 is still on, as Wilcox's lawyers had requested.
That hearing will allow Wilcox's attorneys to present their case for disqualifying Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas from the prosecution.
And that, we suspect, could end up with Thomas and his staff being barred from prosecuting the case.
Wilcox's attorneys, Kathy O'Meara and Colin Campbell of Osborn Maledon, have argued that Thomas must be barred from the case because attorneys in his office advised Wilcox on how to fill out her financial disclosure forms -- which are now Exhibit A in the case against her. They also note that prosecutors are forbidden from filing criminal charges against someone for a case they are also pursuing civilly. (Thomas sued Wilcox and the other county supervisors, alleging that they are a criminal enterprise.)
Thomas' office initially obtained an indictment against Wilcox in December. But, as we pointed out at the time, the indictment was badly flawed. Thomas actually had to go back to the grand jury and get another indictment, this one correcting some of the bigger mistakes in the first one. Thomas then filed to dismiss the first indictment.
But Wilcox's attorneys argued that the two cases should be combined: a hearing was already set on their motion disqualify Thomas from prosecuting the case. They thought that hearing should be allowed to go on, despite the revised indictment.
In this order issued yesterday, Judge Leonardo agreed.
The motion to disqualify the county attorney from the first indictment "applies equally" to the second, revised indictment, Judge Leonardo wrote. "In the interest of judgment," Leonardo wrote, he was consolidating the two cases for the purpose of hearing the disqualification arguments.
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"We are pleased that Judge Leonardo decided to consolidate the cases and go forward with the hearing in February," said O'Meara, one of Wilcox's attorneys.
Now, it's interesting to note that at roughly this point in the original indictment against Wilcox's colleague on the board of supervisors, Don Stapley, Thomas seemed to realize he was in trouble. Facing motions to disqualify him since his prosecutors had also advised Stapley on his disclosure forms, Thomas sent the case over to the Yavapai County Attorney.
Since the new indictment -- likely an attempt both to clean up some shoddy work and stall the case to boot -- failed to stop the hearing on Thomas disqualification in the Wilcox case, it will be interesting to see what Thomas does next. Bring in an outside prosecutor? Try to find some patsy to take the fall for him? Or maybe just resign now and go for Attorney General?
Yes, the last idea may just be wishful thinking, but really ... wouldn't it be nice?