The Dead Lawyer Made Him Do It

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"I knew [Thinnes] for 30 years as a prosecutor and defense lawyer," he wrote in his July 11 letter to Brad Astrowsky, "and . . . there was never a moment that I believed a word he ever said."

Thinnes was no slouch -- even Dichter admits that. Nor is Dichter, a former white-collar prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office and current member of the governing board of the State Bar of Arizona.

The two feisty lawyers last confronted each other during a contentious hearing at the Old Courthouse last September 1.

The civil case at hand was Thinnes vs. Owens, in which a judge was asked to resolve disputes between the men over the potential sale of the law-office building that the two men then owned. (The building finally was sold last month for $600,000 -- half to Owens, half to the Thinnes Estate.)

Thinnes got so steamed during Dichter's cross-examination of him that he twice challenged his adversary from the witness stand to take their differences "outside."

To be kind, it was not Thinnes' brightest courtroom moment.

Two weeks later, he died.

The judge later held Bob Owens in contempt of court, concluding that "substantial evidence at the hearing demonstrated that [Owens] has engaged in a pattern of removing and/or destroying or tampering with [Thinnes'] office records in an apparent effort to harass [Thinnes] and interfere with his legal practice."

As the county's grand jury investigation moved forward, Dichter asked prosecutors months ago to allow Owens to testify. He withdrew the request two weeks ago.

"With Thinnes having been the main source of underlying information to [Agent] Edwards," Dichter wrote in his July 11 letter, "it was formerly viewed as essential that Owens directly rebut Thinnes' accusations. Now, however, with homage to Gore Vidal's reaction to the death of Truman Capote hanging in the air (when asked for reaction, Vidal termed Capote's death 'a good career move'), the need for any sort of a rebuttal of that type has passed, along with anything Thinnes may have had to say."

Dichter also implied in his letter that Thinnes and New Times somehow had conspired to get Bob Owens.

"You and your agent [Edwards] have been sold a major bill of goods by both the dead and the living," Dichter wrote, adding that an "ancient Chinese aphorism holds that the faintest of ink is more powerful than the strongest of recollections . . ."

One problem for Owens is that the ink used to describe his wrongdoings is indelibly etched into the public record.

Certainly, not everyone subscribes to Steve Dichter's position that, in his words, Tom Thinnes was a "craven and dishonest" man.

One of Thinnes' sons, Ben, tells New Times, "As for the suggestion that Mr. Owens may attempt to place some of the blame for his actions on my father, all I can say is that this is a sad statement. . . . My father was an honorable man and a respected member of this community, and it is disappointing to hear that someone like Mr. Owens would drag my father's name into his own problems."

Ben Thinnes, who is an attorney for a large Phoenix firm, adds that "we take comfort knowing of Mr. Owens' arrest and commend the authorities for taking the action they have. All of us, the entire Thinnes family, are still struggling with the unfortunate passing of my father last year and we would simply like to move on with our lives."

Unfortunately for Tom Thinnes' survivors, however, their loved one's enduring legacy for many will be his difficult final years, when he became so entangled with Bob Owens.

Longtime family friend Derek Van Arman touches on that when he says, "Tom Thinnes will always be one of my heroes because he was so damned decent. That's what made him vulnerable. His weakness is that he believed in rehabilitation -- and forgiveness -- so he gave everyone a second chance. By the time he realized what was happening [with Owens], he was trapped in a 'creature feature' with human garbage."

An author and onetime government security analyst who lives in Scottsdale, Van Arman says Owens' criminal defense is inevitable. "Watch as he tries to change his skin to become the victim," he says, "proof he's clever as any other witness reptile. When the last chapter's written, it will be clear that Owens only had one gift -- the gift of the sociopath."

Steve Dichter's got a client to represent, and a difficult one at that.

In concluding his July 11 tome to prosecutors, Dichter implored them to "take another look at all this. Your 'best' witnesses [Thinnes and Vaughn] are dead and, frankly, they had absolutely no credibility in any event. Your next set of witnesses are a bunch of drug dealers if, frankly, you even have them.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin