Maricopa County Craziness

New State Bar Complaint Against Andrew Thomas -- This Time, He Could Be in Trouble

Yesterday, Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo kicked Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas off the prosecution of Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox -- saying Thomas had a series of conflicts of interest and dismissing the entire indictment against Wilcox for good measure.

Which led us to wonder: Since Judge Leonardo believed that the law bars Thomas from using his office to prosecute his political enemy, might the State Bar of Arizona feel the same? And might it possibly, finally, take action against Thomas?

The answers, as best we can tell, are that it might indeed feel the same way. (The Bar's spokesman, Rick DeBruhl, tells New Times that someone has already contacted the Bar to lodge a complaint on the matter. Fast work, indeed!)

And, we believe, this time it could actually take action.

The key to the Bar's case? An important (and, we believe, heretofore unpublished) document from May 2009.

The document, which we'll link to in a minute, is a letter from Rebecca Albrecht, the special counsel that the Bar brought in to handle the myriad complaints against County Attorney Thomas after he claimed -- waah! waah! waah! -- the Bar was on a witchhunt.

We'd been a bit annoyed because Albrecht summarily dismissed complaints against Thomas' handling of the New Times matter, which triggered widespread outrage but apparently broke no ethical rules.

It turns out, soon after Albrecht closed out the New Times case, she also closed a complaint against Thomas for his prosecution of Supervisor Don Stapley.

Stapley, of course, was Thomas' first target on the county Board of Supervisors. Thomas had gotten an indictment on 118 criminal counts after Stapley failed to list a few business interests on his county-mandated disclosure forms. When Stapley's lawyers cried that Thomas had a major conflict of interest -- since his staff had advised Stapley on those very forms -- Thomas volunteered to kick the case off to a special, "independent" prosecutor. (We later learned that, due to no fault her own, that special prosecutor wasn't quite so independent -- but that's another story.)

Under oath, Thomas claimed that he was motivated by a desire to offer an olive branch to the county supervisors. They were "stealing" his civil division, he says; he was desperate to get it back. So he made a show of good faith, he claims.

Conveniently, he doesn't mention that turning over the case to a special prosecutor also got him off the hook with the State Bar.

Just read Albrecht's May 9, 2009 letter, dismissing the complaints against Thomas regarding his handling of the Stapley matter.

We've linked to it here..

Albrecht writes that she believes there's a "clear issue" of conflict of interest in the matter. And, "if borne out," she cautions, it could have led to a finding that Thomas violated three different ethical rules. (That's rules 1.7, 1.10, and 8.4(d), for all you legal geeks.)

"However, you have obviously recognized those conflicts," Albrecht notes, "and have withdrawn from the case in accordance with [another ethical rule]. Please confirm that neither you, nor your office, is any longer involved. If that is the case, I see no purpose in pursuing a disclipinary case against you.

"Please be advised, however," Albrecht continues, "that these issues are highly concerning and should it come to the Bar's attention that similar conflict of interest concerns come up in the future, this file may be reviewed anew."


So Thomas kicked the Stapley case away to an outside prosecutor because he wanted his civil division -- and, surely, because he was worried about action from the Bar, which appears to have taken complaints about his conflicts very seriously. Months later, succumbing to entreaties from the Sheriff's Office, Thomas asked the "independent" prosecutor to give the case back. He then obtained yet another indictment against Supervisor Stapley, as well as one against Stapley's colleague, Supervisor Wilcox, even though the independent prosecutor had found no evidence of a crime in the Wilcox matter.

Now, finally, thanks to Judge Leonardo's devastating ruling yesterday, Thomas has been legally disqualified from pursuing the Wilcox case -- and, seeing the writing on the wall, has given up the cases against Stapley and Judge Gary Donahoe, too.

You might say that similar conflicts arose. Thomas did not stay on the straight and narrow that Judge Albrecht advised. And now that the criminal cases are out of Thomas' sweaty little paws, it's time for the Bar to (in Judge Albrecht's words) review this matter anew.

Thanks to Judge Albrecht's letter, we know one thing: Thomas can't claim that the Bar didn't warn him on this one.

Does anyone know how to spell "Nifong"?
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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske