Maricopa County Craziness

Andrew Thomas Could Be Hit With $554,000 Bill for Disciplinary Proceedings; UPDATED

Andrew Thomas could be forced to pay $554,000 for the disciplinary proceeding that resulted in his disbarment.

(UPDATED: The amount was first filed as $296,300, as we reported earlier today. The State Bar just informed us that an amended bill will be filed tomorrow with the new, higher amount. We'll attach a copy of that statement to this post when we receive it.)

A three-member state Supreme Court disciplinary panel decided to disbar the former Maricopa County Attorney and deputy prosecutor Lisa Aubuchon after a lengthy investigation and weeks of hearings. The law license of another prosecutor, Rachel Alexander, was suspended for six months and a day.

The $554,000 bill prepared by the State Bar of Arizona's independent counsel in the case, John Gleason, represents the "recoverable costs" of the proceedings, out of a total expense of about $577,000. It includes costs for hotel stays, meals, expert witnesses, and other expenses needed to bring the case against Thomas, Aubuchon, and Alexander.

Aubuchon and Alexander are appealing their punishments, so their bills haven't yet been totaled.

Arguably, Thomas is responsible for the travel-related expenses, since he and his legal team rejected the local attorney originally appointed to serve as investigator, J. Scott Rhodes.

After criticism was raised that Rhodes might be biased in the case. In part because he donated $390 to the campaign of Thomas' Democratic opponent in 2008, Tim Nelson, Rhodes declined the appointment. Rebecca White Berch, former chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, then handed the assignment of investigating the numerous State Bar complaints against Thomas, Aubuchon, and Alexander to Gleason, an attorney regulation expert who worked with the Colorado Supreme Court.

That meant a lot of out-of-town work for Gleason --some of it downright exciting. Gleason and the co-counsel in the Bar proceedings, James Sudler, were tailed by private investigators who, ironically, were funded with county money. Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies also may have followed Gleason, according to an April 14 Arizona Republic article.

Thomas will get a chance to dispute the bill, and state Supreme Court Disciplinary Judge William O'Neil will decide whether he should pay all, some, or none of it.

Disbarring Thomas was the most expensive disciplinary proceeding ever in Arizona. The previous record was set in 2010 in the case of ambulance-chaser Jeffrey Phillips, whose law license was suspended for six months and a day for failing to properly supervise his non-attorney employees as they took payments from clients. In that case, a bill of $31,000 for legal expenses was paid by Phillips.

How doggedly the State Bar will pursue Thomas for the $554,000 bill remains an open question, says Bar spokesman Rick DeBruhl.

After O'Neil makes his ruling on how much of the bill Thomas officially will owe, State Bar President John Phelps and the Bar's general counsel, John Furlong, will decide how -- or if -- the money should be collected, DeBruhl says.

Theoretically, the Bar could try to collect some of the money from Maricopa County, which funded Thomas' defense lawyers during the proceedings.

Thomas won't have much earning potential after his law license gets yanked on May 10, and it seems safe to say his book about his troubles won't produce a jackpot in royalties.

Click here to see the State Bar Statement of Costs and Expenses in the case of Andrew Thomas.