Maricopa County Craziness

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas Takes On Bar Investigator J. Scott Rhodes

It's no secret that Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has been on a quest to stop the State Bar of Arizona's duly appointed independent investigator from even thinking about beginning an investigation into Thomas' ethical mishaps.

Almost immediately after Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch appointed J. Scott Rhodes to look into Thomas, the hew and cry began. Rhodes once represented the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who are at the center of the charges against Thomas, or so Thomas' lawyer argued. He once represented people in Thomas office! He even advised Thomas himself!

Never-mind that all those conflicts sort of add up into a non-conflict: Rhodes, apparently, has worked for both the supervisors and county attorney at one point or another; doesn't that mean he's not strongly in one camp or another? And really, how bizarre that Thomas -- who thought he ought to be allowed to investigate a construction project that his own staff served as the legal counsel on -- suddenly thinks that conflict of interests are a big deal?

The hypocrisy is staggering.

But while we were faintly bemused by Thomas' fussing, it wasn't until last night's news broadcast that our chuckles turned to loud guffaws.

Last night, Thomas' favorite reporter, ABC-15 "investigator" Josh Bernstein, was granted a sit-down interview with Thomas himself. And, as Bernstein reported breathlessly, he had a stunning scoop to share with viewers.

The scoop involves both the investigator appointed to look into Thomas, Rhodes, and the "probable cause panelist" who will oversee his investigation, Charles E. Jones.

"The ABC-15 investigators have learned that Jones and Rhodes have worked together in the past," Bernstein harumphed. (You can see the video here.) "According to his own bio, Rhodes was a legal clerk for Jones when he was a state Supreme Court justice. Jones is also a former managing partner at Jennings Strouss & Salmon, the same firm where Rhodes is currently employed."

"Is this another conflict of interest?" Bernstein asked Thomas.

"Well, it's troubling ..." Thomas replied.

Watching that, you might assume Jennings Strouss is a hotbed of anti-Thomas sentiment -- when really, had the "investigators" dug a little deeper, they would have learned just the opposite.

Thomas second-in-command, Phil MacDonnell, was a partner at the firm -- he only left when Thomas offered him a job at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. And he's not the only person at the MCAO to work at Jennings Strouss. Thomas himself used to work there! 

Even crazier: Thomas' own lawyer, the guy who wrote the letter asking Rhodes to recuse himself, is Ernest Calderon.

Calderon was a partner at Jennings Strouss as recently as 2004.

Odd, don't you think, that the broadcast made no mention of that?

We're still unsure what to make of Thomas' protestations. For one thing, we've been trying to find out just how long ago Rhodes worked for the Board of Supervisors. The county can find no record of him doing so in the last year, which is when the conflicts between the board and Thomas really became intense; if Rhodes represented the supervisors before their war with Thomas, it would hardly be an issue. We'll let you know if we find out more.

But meantime, this whole "conflict of interest" thing strikes us as much ado about very little. Really, it makes us suspect that Rhodes is a pretty formidable opponent -- why else would Thomas be fighting this hard to block him from getting started?