Attorney General Horne Hired Carmen Chenal to a Highly Paid Top Post -- 'Cause She's His Goomba

If you needed the services of a criminal attorney, would you hire a lawyer with no experience in criminal law, who had been suspended from the State Bar of Arizona for 120 days, had not practiced law in five years, and who was still on probation for her past misdeeds?

Add to this a DUI charge pleaded down to reckless driving, a bankruptcy, and a history of mental and physical issues that may or may not have caused the misconduct that led to the lawyer's suspension.

With that sort of record, I think most folks would pass, as there are a lot of lawyers in the sea with more of the right kind of experience and lacking black marks on their careers.

Not Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who has hired his longtime political crony Carmen Chenal as an assistant attorney general in charge of foreign extraditions at a salary of $108,000 a year.

Chenal's expertise is in construction and real estate law, and she briefly was a partner with Horne in his firm before Horne became Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2003.

In 2006, Horne hired his buddy at the Department of Education as a program specialist in special education, at a $62,947 salary, even though she had no experience in the field.

But lack of experience was the least of Chenal's problems. Just a year earlier, the Bar had suspended her law license for four months and ordered her to pay $2,500 in restitution to one of her victims, as well as foot the $1,018 bill for the Bar's investigation. She also was placed on probation for two years.

The allegations against Chenal were substantial. In one case, Chenal took part of a client's settlement money and applied it to his bill in another case without his permission.

In that second matter, Chenal's suit on behalf of her client was thrown out of court, with attorney fees in the amount of $17,037 awarded to the defendant. Chenal's client wanted her to appeal the decision, but she failed to do so. The client was so ticked off that he fired her.

In another matter, Chenal took on a domestic-relations case in Illinois. One little problem: She was not licensed to practice in Illinois. The Arizona Supreme Court hearing officer's report on Chenal's suspension noted her "unauthorized practice of law" as her "most serious violation."

But there's much more.

From 2001 to 2003, she bounced three checks for filing fees to the Clerk of the Maricopa County Superior Court.

In a medical-malpractice case, she sent a letter from one of her expert witnesses to opposing counsel, after she allegedly had "whited out" corrections the expert had made in the margins. Like bouncing checks to the clerk of court, altering such documents is a no-no.

A summary of her disciplinary history on the state Bar's website notes Chenal's bumbling in another case.

"Ms. Chenal listed a party but did not provide any allegations against the person in the civil complaint; presented claims barred by the statute of limitations; and after listing many witnesses on the disclosure statement, only one testified, and the testimony was inconsistent with that listed on the disclosure statement."

Despite the details of her suspension, Horne defended employing Chenal at the Department of Education to New Times in a 2006 article ("Changing the Chenal," April 27), describing her as a "first-rate lawyer" undone by various family issues.

"I think we're lucky to get her," he said at the time.

Interestingly, Chenal also declared bankruptcy in 2004, forcing her to sell her car to pay her debts. That might have been for the best, since she'd been charged with a DUI in 2001, which according to the record on file with the Dreamy Draw Justice Court, she pleaded down to a reckless-driving charge.

In 2002, Chenal was charged with driving on a suspended license in Carefree Municipal Court. The case was dismissed.

Of course, Horne has had his own problems, albeit in the more distant past. In 1970, his investment firm T.C. Horne & Co. went belly-up, resulting in a lifetime trading ban with the Securities and Exchange Commission. A fact he failed to disclose in his law firm's annual reports to the Arizona Corporation Commission.

So maybe Horne has a soft heart for fellow lawyers who've messed up heretofore, like Chenal. And it probably didn't hurt that Chenal has been a stalwart campaign operative for Republican Horne in more than one race.

In any case, Chenal waited five years to apply to the Bar for reinstatement.

Because she'd waited so long, she had to go through a formal reinstatement process, with evidence, witnesses, and a hearing, at which her counsel argued that Chenal should be readmitted without having to participate in the Bar's Member Assistance Program, part of the probation process in which a delinquent lawyer receives counseling and is monitored closely.