It was a given that Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas was going to be miffed by the recent ruling on Don Stapley's case by Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields.
Thomas has been saying for months that Fields is biased against him and he tried to get the judge kicked off the case. Fields was brought out of retirement for the Stapley case by Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell, who the sheriff's office claims is under criminal investigation, (though under investigation for what, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has not clearly said).
In a news release put out tonight by Thomas' office, the county attorney airs those grievances anew. But he's also annoyed that Stapley seems to be taking advantage of his role in the county's failure to properly adopt the state's campaign financial disclosure laws. That failure is what led the judge to dismiss 51 criminal counts against Stapley.
There's a bit of a contradiction in Thomas' message, though. If Stapley and other County Supervisors did not pass the campaign laws correctly, then Fields can't be biased simply for acknowledging that fact. Wouldn't any objective judge have come to the same conclusion?
Still, that doesn't excuse Stapley's apparent failure to adopt the campaign laws. Thomas' point here makes sense: It seems almost absurd that a politician can fail to enact state-mandated rules, then use that failure to avoid punishment when breaking those rules.
But this is the American justice system: Innocent until proven guilty -- and if you can get the case thrown out on a technicality, all the better.
Whether Stapley's really a crook or not is still a long way from being answered, and now the big case against him -- cooked up by Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- seems to be unraveling.
Full text of Thomas' statement follows:
Statement of Maricopa County Attorney's Office regarding ruling today in Stapley criminal case:
We appreciate the hard work of the Yavapai County Attorney's Office in this case, and we urge them to appeal this ruling.
It's unjust and improper for this criminal defendant to be able to claim that, as a member of the board of supervisors, he failed to properly pass or amend the very laws he's accused of violating. For him to be able to take advantage of improper performance of his own public duties is wrong by any measure. It's equally wrong that the people of Maricopa County have just been told they're the only citizens of Arizona whose elected county officials don't have to disclose their private business dealings to the voters.
The ruling today also reinforces our office's concerns about the impartiality of Judge Fields. He was handpicked for this case in violation of the rules of court, despite his having filed a bar complaint against the Maricopa County Attorney (which was dismissed) and having campaigned for Mr. Thomas' opponent in last year's election. Four esteemed experts in judicial ethics have stated that Judge Fields was ethically required to recuse himself from this case.