Rachel Alexander, the deputy county attorney now handling the Maricopa County Attorney's racketeering lawsuit against a host of county officials, was working out of Thomas' executive office as recently as mid-December, county records show.
Indeed, Alexander -- a conservative blogger and longtime Thomas supporter -- wasn't transferred to the MCAO's Major Crimes Unit until December 14. That's just one week before she became the attorney of record on the extremely complicated racketeering suit, in which Thomas accuses the county supervisors, some judges, and other elected officials, of being part of an elaborate criminal conspiracy.
The timing on that transfer is interesting because it confirms our theory -- posited on this blog yesterday -- that Alexander is an odd choice to be handling the RICO litigation. Thomas has basically staked his reputation on the idea that the county officials who oppose him are engaged in a massive (and bizarre) coverup so they can build their pet project. (According to the suit, the elected officials allegedly conspired to build a new county courthouse and thwart the county attorney from investigating it.)
But the lawsuit itself is a bizarre melange of unsubstantiated allegations and details that don't quite add up to anything. A veteran prosecutor would have a hell of a time advancing this case; a prosecutor with one week's experience in major crime is likely doomed.
We also learned another interesting thing about Alexander: She's supposed to be nonpolitical.
As we pointed out in our previous post, the blogger/neophyte crime fighter recently tweeted on behalf of her boss, county attorney Thomas, saying that he needed volunteers for his campaign for attorney general.
One of Alexander's acquaintances wrote in to question our reasons for including that tidbit. "Does the tweet in question represent some steep breach of ethics no one knows about?" he wrote.
Now, at the time of our post yesterday, we would have said definitely not. We weren't insinuating an ethical breach; we were showing that Alexander is politically loyal to Thomas -- which may be one reason he chose her to handle this blatantly political lawsuit.
But we've since learned that the matter may be a bit more complicated. There are two types of county employees, as it turns out. Classified employees fall under the merit system and are restricted from certain sorts of political activity. Unclassified employees, who serve at the pleasure of their political masters, can campaign and bloviate at will.
We just assumed Alexander was unclassified, since her work for Thomas seems to be nothing if not political.
County records show that Alexander was initially hired as an "unclassified" worker. But within one month of coming on, in 2005, her status changed to "classified."
That means she cannot make political endorsements while identifying herself as a county employee. She cannot be an officer or a chairman "of a commmittee of a partisan political club" (whatever that means), she cannot run for office, and she cannot "take part in the management or affairs or any political party or in the management of any partisan campaign or recall effort," according to the county's employee manual.
The exceptions? She can express opinions, cast ballots, circulate nominating petitions, engage in activities to advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, and even encourage or solicit donations to a campaign.
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Thomas' upcoming campaign for AG -- in which he hopes to take down State Schools Superintendent Tom Horne in the Republican primary -- is definitely a partisan campaign. So did Alexander's soliticitation of campaign volunteers cross the line into "management" or taking part in its "affairs"?
On one hand, we like to err on the side of the First Amendment, which would mean Alexander is in her rights.
On the other, we seem to be in a gray area that may need further clarification before we can decide with certainty. Just what is the county's policy on tweeting? And what role, if any, does Alexander have in Thomas' fledgling campaign?
Alexander did not respond to an email seeking comment; we'll update this post if we hear from her.