Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne's chief deputy and office hatchet man Eric "Rick" Bistrow has farmed out an internal investigation into allegations made by ex-AG employee Sarah Beattie to two attorneys who have contributed to Horne's campaign in the past.
In a letter dated June 18, Bistrow formally appointed Republican lobbyist and former lawmaker John Kaites and Kaites' fellow counsel, former superior court judge David Derickson, to look into Beattie's claims at the rate of $250 per hour.
"We anticipate that this engagement will be finalized within 30 days and fees shall not exceed $50,000," writes Bistrow in the letter.
Both Derickson and Kaites are with the law firm Ridenour, Hienton & Lewis. Ridenour, et al., is on the list of firms approved by the AG's office to accept state government cases.
According to AG spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham, the firm has taken four such assignments since 2011, including this current internal investigation.
Additionally, records online with the Arizona Secretary of State's Office show that both Kaites and Derickson previously have contributed to Horne's campaign for AG.
Derickson made a $300 contribution to Horne, dated March 28, 2011. Kaites has made two contributions, one in 2011 for $840. And another in 2012 for $840.
Other members of the firm also have contributed to Horne, including William G. Ridenour, the firm's managing partner and founder. The total amount to Horne from members of the firm is more than $6,000.
Beattie's attorney Tom Ryan shared with me a letter from the pair dated June 26, informing him that they are investigating the matter and have hired a private investigator and an IT consultant to assist them with the probe.
"The purpose of this letter," the attorneys write, "is to introduce our involvement in this matter to you, and to request that your client submit to a voluntary interview regarding her allegations, together with foundational support for the source and content of the exhibits attached to the complaint."
But Ryan says he has no intention of cooperating with them, or allowing them access to his client.
"There are already multiple agencies investigating this matter," Ryan told me via e-mail. "Sarah is and will be cooperating with these other investigative entities fully. Given how the Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has conducted himself with his self-appointed `attack and distract' campaign against Sarah...we lack any confidence in...an investigation from that office."
Indeed, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission recently voted to authorize an investigation into Beattie's allegations that Horne has made the AG's office his de facto campaign headquarters, using state resources and state employees to perform campaign functions during regular office hours.
The SOS has a copy of the Beattie complaint, but has yet to make a probable cause finding regarding it or the responses filed by Horne.
Additionally, the FBI and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office are investigating Horne. And of course, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has ordered Horne and his arch wing-woman Kathleen Winn to pay back $400,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
So why do we need a $50,000 internal investigation, paid for by taxpayers?
Because none of those other probes are going to exonerate Horne.
Regarding Ridenour, Ryan understandably considers the involvement of firm a problem.
"I count eight lawyers [from that firm] who have contributed to Tom Horne's campaign," Ryan explained. "And they're on the list of approved lawyers, so they are financially well-connected to the Attorney General's Office."
But Derickson insisted that he and his firm could be counted on to do an independent investigation.
"I don't think it's a conflict of interest," Derickson said of the campaign contributions. "I contribute to a lot of political figures. I don't think I've met Mr. Horne.
"What I feel we absolutely must do in a case like this is to investigate the facts, and come to a conclusion about what facts exist and whether or not they establish a violation of law. I certainly feel as a former judge, and Mr. Kaites as a litigator, we have to set aside our personal feelings in order to represent certain clients."
He also said he didn't believe his firm's receiving other business from the AG's office to be a conflict.
"We have a certain set of ethics and responsibilities that requires us to carry out an obligation like this to conduct an internal investigation without consideration of your own personal interests, such as whether we're going to get any business again."
Derickson says that though Bistrow signed the appointment letter, Horne's hatchet man is screened off from the Ridenour firm's inquiry. (The inquiry itself does not have subpoena power.)
He also pointed out that in 2010 Kaites served as a host for a fundraiser, held at the Ridenour law firm, for Democrat Felecia Rotellini, whom Horne bested in the general election by around 60,000 votes.
(Derickson was not working for Ridenour, et al., at the time.)
Ryan wasn't buying. He called Derickson's co-counsel Kaites "a well-known hard-right Republican," and observed that neither Kaites nor Derickson had donated any money to Rotellini.
He also observed that it was common for law firms to hedge their bets when donating in the AG's race, as Kaites apparently did by helping with a Rotellini fundraiser.
"I have had both camps in the AG's race, for [Mark] Brnovich and Rotellini seek support and money from me," Ryan said. "I'd like to support one or the other, but I can't because I feel like it would be a conflict of interest for me to be doing what I'm doing and loading up money in one or both of those campaigns. You just don't do that."
In his sometimes hilarious letter of response to Kaites and Derickson, Ryan, well-known to readers of this blog as "the Irish Wolfhound of Arizona election law," gave the pair some free advice, which you can read below:
But since the Office of the Attorney General has granted you the authority to independently investigate campaign violations committed by Tom Horne and the members of the Executive Office staff, let me take the liberty of pointing this investigation in the right direction. Ask Tom Horne- under oath- where his campaign headquarters are. Not where he slipped out at lunch or after hours to the Arizona Rock Products Association. But where his "volunteers" spread out all of the thousands and thousands of nomination petition signatures and did the checking of them.
And where does he keep all of his campaign desks, computers, phones, campaign literature, administrative documents and so forth? Go look at the Brnovich campaign headquarters and the Rotellini campaign headquarters and see what it takes to run a statewide campaign for public office. And then go to the Executive Office of the "AGO" and you will begin to see what Sarah Beattie's documentary proof is all about. In short, history will prove that the Tom Horne 2014 campaign headquarters are as mythical as the legendary Mogollon Monster and as ephemeral as La Llorona.
Interestingly, Kaites ran for attorney general in the 1998 Republican primary, losing to Tom McGovern, despite some dirty pool on Kaites' part. McGovern, however, went on to lose to Democrat Janet Napolitano.
No insult to Derickson, but does anyone really care what Horne's handpicked law firm will have to say about the Beattie matter?
I'm far more interested in seeing Horne in handcuffs. The sooner the better.
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