Tom Horne's Pal Carmen Chenal's Bar File Partially Sealed by Judge

It's been a while since I first wrote about Attorney General Tom Horne's close friend Carmen Chenal's problems with the State Bar of Arizona and her being hired by the Arizona Attorney General's Office as an attorney in the criminal division, at a salary of $108,000.

Chenal is one of many cronies Horne brought with him from the Department of Education, where he was Superintendent from 2003 to 2011. 

Horne hired Chenal as a program specialist in special education at DOE, though apparently she was not qualified for the position. Similarly, Chenal, whose work has mostly been in the field of construction and real-estate law, followed Horne to the AG's office in 2011, where she ended up scoring a plum assignment.

Despite her having zero experience in criminal law, her being suspended in 2005 by the bar, and the fact that she had not practiced for several years, Chenal was appointed an Assistant Attorney General, responsible for for foreign prosecutions as well as investigating and prosecuting complex fraud cases.

The bar reinstated her in April of 2011, though she was ordered to complete two years of probation and counseling, as well as continue receiving psychiatric care for mental problems that supposedly led to the misdeeds that got her suspended.

While researching my initial column on Chenal, I reviewed boxes of documents on file with the state bar, and read the transcript of her reinstatement hearing. If memory serves me correctly, portions of that transcript had already been redacted, but now Chenal wants larger portions of the record off limits to the public, and her request has been granted, in part.

On February 22, William O'Neil, the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court, agreed with Chenal that some of the exhibits in her file should be sealed in their entirety and others should be redacted. O'Neil found that the public's right to know was outweighed by Chenal's privacy and confidentiality rights. He gave Chenal and her lawyer till the middle of this week to finalize the items to be restricted.

Thing is, we don't know what will be sealed, as the exhibit attached to Chenal's lawyer's original motion was not made public, and the file itself was temporarily shut, pending O'Neil's decision. The motion to seal the file generally described the documents as relating to the "personal, financial and medical issues affecting the applicant."

Nor is it clear from the record whether the documents to be sealed are ones that I've already studied, or new ones. It could be that in light of what I've written, Chenal is simply blocking access to future reporters. Or she could be concealing some as-yet-unrevealed information from public scrutiny.

Considering Chenal's position and the questions regarding her competency, I would argue that the public does have the right to know the contents of Chenal's file with the state bar and the state supreme court. 

Moreover, if these are items I've reported on already, the seal order is a futile effort to get the cat back in the bag.

State bar spokesman Rick DeBruhl indicated that the bar did not object to closing portions of Chenal's file, but that's only because "the list presented to the court was the result of a negotiation between Chenal and the bar." 

He added that the bar did not accept all of Chenal's original request.

It's not unheard of that portions of a lawyer's disciplinary file would be sealed. DeBruhl estimated that this occurs in 15 to 20 percent of the cases the bar investigates. 

Some of the reasons the bar would agree to such a sealing include, according to DeBruhl: "Attorney/client confidential information; information that is already sealed in the underlying proceedings; personal information concerning juveniles; personal information about an attorney such as mental or physical health records."

This might not be that big of a deal if Chenal was an attorney in private practice, or her position carried far less weight. But being that she is an Assistant Attorney General with powerful prosecutorial powers, and given her checkered history as a lawyer, the public's right to know should prevail, save in redacting the obvious -- personal checking account numbers, and the like.

Of course, the public hasn't prevailed in this case. And that fact only raises more questions about Chenal's ability to fulfill her present duties at the AG's office, as well as why she scored the gig in the first place.

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