Feathered Bastard

Tom Horne, Elections Law Violator, Files Election Law Complaint: Irony Alert

Attorney General Tom Horne, elections law violator, is the walking, talking embodiment of the arrogance of power.

For him, the rules simply do not apply. But if you criticize him, laws that have no application in your case, suddenly become relevant.

It's bad enough that our sleazy AG recently filed a retaliatory defamation suit against the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance for running ads urging him to return the $400,000 that two Republican county attorneys have determined was illegally spent on his behalf in the 2010 general election.

But, piling irony atop irony, Horne's private lawyer Sandra Slaton -- who also is on contract with the AG's office as approved outside counsel -- filed a complaint on November 8 with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, alleging violations of state campaign finance law on the part of AZPIA.

Read Slaton's letter to Cox and her complaint to the Secretary of State on Horne's behalf. Essentially, Slaton argues that AZPIA is campaigning against Horne's re-election, and therefore must abide by state campaign finance laws, register with the state, disclose its donors, etc.

Read AZPIA attorney Kory Langhofer's response to Slaton's letter to Cox.

This, despite the fact the general election's a month away and the primary election is about eight months away. Also, AZPIA, which is a 501c4 non-profit, is not advocating Horne's election defeat.

Rather, it's advocating that Horne pay back the cash that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery say must be paid back.

I called Chandler attorney Tom Ryan, the Irish wolfhound of election law, to ask him if he thought Slaton's argument had any merit. Ryan, who has seen the ads, wasn't buying.

"That complaint to the Secretary of State's Office is going to be received like flatulence on a submarine berth," he cracked. "It's got no substance to it."

He ticked off the reasons why: "One, there's no election pending. Two, they're not advocating for or against an elective issue or person. And three, it's issue advocacy: Tom Horne has violated the law, call him and tell him that."

Ryan also saw a problem with the complaint itself, specifically with the attached letter to Cox Media, where Slaton informs Cox that she represents "Tom Horne, Republican Attorney General" (Slaton states the same thing to the SOS, BTW), and that if Cox continues to run the ads it will be "complicit in illegal advertising."

"They are absolutely, inappropriately, incorrectly invoking the power of the Attorney General's Office," Ryan said. "This is an individual claim, filed individually. That is a very dangerous thing. Tom Horne should step up and tell his law firm that you need to correct that immediately."

He continued: "This is nothing more than Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"...They're running afoul of the blurred lines...They do not represent the office of the Attorney General on this matter, they represent Tom Horne and his wife individually."

AZPIA's new and improved ad, the FBI investigation is past tense, message remains the same

What about Slaton representing Horne and being an approved vendor for the AG's office? Is that a conflict of interest?

"It's another blurred line," said Ryan. "We have an obligation under the rules of ethics to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

Initially, the AG's office had advised me that, though Slaton is on the list of approved list outside counsel for the AG's office, she had not taken any cases from the AG since Horne's been in office.

But Thursday the AG's spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham informed me that, "[I]t looks like there were three cases given to Slaton... [on] 7/29/11, 8/05/11 and 3/23/11."

Grisham admitted that the AG's office is responsible for approving the assignment of cases to outside counsel, but she could not provide the amounts billed by Slaton. Seems I'll have to go to another department to score that.

Interestingly, the guy who gave Tom Horne's alleged mistress Carmen Chenal a job, the infamous Dennis Wilenchik, is also a contract attorney with the AG's office. Wilenchik was recently given a case on 9/25.

On the AG's pending SLAPP suit, which I wrote about in a previous blog item, Ryan also had some interesting observations, as he has extensive experience in such matters, having successfully represented Republican Tom Liddy back when Liddy was chairman of the county GOP, from a defamation suit brought by maestro of political sleaze Constantine Querard.

"Defamation is the whole concept, not just that something is false or not true," Ryan said. "It also has to be a damage to reputation...This guy's reputation is already horribly damaged...How much damage can this do to him? It's not like people don't already associate an FBI investigation with Tom Horne."

Horne's kvetch in the lawsuit is that he was under investigation by the FBI, and no longer is under investigation by the FBI, as the AZPIA stated in its initial ad.

But the AZPIA quickly remedied that situation by correcting the ad. The overall theme of the ad -- that Horne should pay back the ill-gotten $400K in contributions -- remains the same.

In any case, Ryan said Horne's opening himself up to discovery with the suit, which could hurt him more than AZPIA has or ever will.

"Under the rule 26.1 of the rules of procedure...there's an obligation to turn over stuff that's harmful to your case," he said. "You don't get to sit back and say, `Well, I don't have to do that.'"

Ryan says Horne could end up like Daffy Duck when Bugs Bunny puts his finger in DD's shotgun and it blows back in the mallard's face.

"Tell [AZPIA's attorney] Kory Langhofer to give me a call," he said. "I'll defend the case for free. Because to me the value of the comedy that's going to come out of this is going to be more than the attorney's fees I'd receive."

As a side note, there is a strange, almost Freudian slip in Slaton's initial letter to Cox Media, wherein she says that, "the Committee for Justice and Fairness ads are false and defamatory."

Committee for Justice and Fairness? That references an entity that has nothing to do with Horne's current complaint and everything to do with his complaint in 2010 against CJF for running an anti-Horne attack ad in the general election.

Ultimately, Horne lost his complaint against CJF in superior court. Why Slaton mentions it here is a mystery, though it seems an ill omen for the client she represents.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons