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Phil Gordon Payments to Girlfriend Okay, Ex-Chief Justice Finds

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We saw this one coming.

The lawyer handpicked by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon's public-relations guy to examine a series of payments the mayor made to his girlfriend using his campaign finance funds -- former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Zlaket -- has cleared Gordon of illegal activity.

Gordon is in the process of getting divorced from his wife, Christa Severns. His team says he did not begin dating his fundraiser, Elissa Mullany, until after he was separated.

As we previously explained, the law forbids politicians from using their campaign funds for personal benefit. It extends that same prohibition on anyone related to them by "blood or marriage."

But there's no prohibition on using your campaign to benefit your girlfriend. So, though Gordon has paid Mullany $140,000 to raise campaign funds in the last two years, even as only minimal funds have been raised, he's in the clear.

Zlaket, a former chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, has been used by at least one client of Gordon's PR guy, Jason Rose, in the past. County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who also works closely with Rose, hired Zlaket to argue that the State Bar's investigation of Thomas was "meritless."

We'd certainly dispute that -- as we pointed out in our column at the time, Zlaket was opining on a complaint related to the arrests of New Times execs Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin without actually reading the complaint filed by New Times' lawyers. D'oh!

But in this case, we can't argue with Zlaket's conclusion. Basically, it's not okay to pay your wife, but it's totally fine to pay your mistress -- so Gordon is within the letter of the law. The moral of this story makes us giggle, but there you have it.

Interestingly, Zlaket did call out Gordon for some excessive payments that we also fixated on: the $8,000 monthly retainer fees the mayor paid his girlfriend throughout 2008, even though little fundraising was accomplished at the time.

Gordon has since switched to commission-based payments.

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