Maricopa County Craziness

Probe of Other County Attorneys Denied; State-Appointed Referee Also Declines to Force Hiring of Special Prosecutors

Andrew Thomas was said to be appreciative of the Arizona Supreme Court's appointment of retired Chief Justice Ruth McGregor as a referee in the ongoing county feud.

Thomas' reaction didn't make much sense then, and it's making even less now that McGregor isn't ruling his way.

As you may recall, Thomas filed a motion with Special Master McGregor on Christmas Eve, requesting an inquiry into an "orchestrated campaign" by other county attorneys who he believed were trying to thwart his planned prosecutions of "influential" people (like Judge Gary Donahoe, Judge Barbara Mundell and County Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley).

Thomas also had asked McGregor to force the county to let him hire two pricey Washington-D.C. lawyers as special prosecutors.

McGregor told Thomas no on both requests.

After listening to arguments yesterday from Deputy County Attorneys Lisa Aubuchon and Paul Kittredge, McGregor ruled that she didn't have jurisdiction to decide the issue of the special prosecutors. She suggested Thomas file a lawsuit with his demands.

Barnett Lotstein, one of Thomas' senior aides, tells New Times that his office will do just that. But the process will take more time than Thomas would have liked, Lotstein says, because of the likelihood that any future ruling on the matter would be appealed, which will take even more time.

"We would have liked her to take jurisdiction because we wanted to fast-track it," Lotstein says. "Justice delayed is justice denied."

Even though Thomas' office is handling the prosecutions of high-profile county officials for now, the county attorney still wants to hire the special prosecutors to (his office avers) remove any appearance of a conflict of interest. (For the record, Lotstein maintains no conflict of interest actually exists). 

McGregor's ruling, posted on the state Supreme Court's Web site, also denies the request for an inquiry into any alleged conspiracy, but no reasons are given for the decision.

It's sort of a no-brainer, anyway. The December 24 request to McGregor followed public statements by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Pinal County Attorney James Walsh that were highly critical of Thomas. 

Lotstein says McGregor stated from the bench yesterday that she wasn't sure who would investigate the supposed conspiracy. Nor was she sure what consquences should follow such an investigation.

"'Would I tell [Polk and Walsh] not to do it again?'" McGregor said, according to Lotstein.

The alleged "campaign" involving Polk to pressure Thomas may still be going on, but the fact that McGregor doesn't look into it means "that's the end of it," Lotstein says.

Of course, there's still the federal racketeering lawsuit and the criminal allegations against Donahoe, which allege an even larger conspiracy.

We can't help but wonder if McGregor views the conspiracy allegation wending its way throught the court system as any less silly than the one alleged to involve Polk.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern