Former top prosecutor loses law license; is Arpaio prosecution next?

April 10, 2012

Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas abused his power and will lose his license to practice law. That’s the ruling a state bar disciplinary panel made yesterday. One former prosecutor will also lose her license, and another will be suspended for six months.

Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas (Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)
Judge Bill O'Neil reads the decision from the Supreme Court bench. Judge Bill O'Neil reads the decision from the Supreme Court bench. (Pool photo by Tom Tingle - Arizona Republic)
Attorney John Gleason speaks outside the Supreme Court. Attorney John Gleason speaks outside the Supreme Court. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox listens to the ruling by Judge O'Neil. Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox listens to the ruling by Judge O'Neil. (Pool photo by Tom Tingle - Arizona Republic)

As KJZZ’s Paul Atkinson reports from Phoenix, most of the legal work may be done, but the fallout from this historic case is far from over.

“This is the story of the public trust dishonored, desecrated, and defiled.” Those are the words of Bill O’Neil, the presiding disciplinary judge of the Arizona Supreme Court. His 247-page ruling amounts to a written scolding of former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, former division chief Lisa Aubuchon and former deputy county attorney Rachel Alexander.

O’Neil writes that “this multi-year-wreck-of-a-ride…outrageously exploited power, flagrantly fostered fear, and disgracefully misused the law.”

Most of the disciplinary claims centered on Thomas and Aubuchon, who went after superior court judges, county supervisors and county administrators who were critical of Thomas. The two were found to have brought criminal charges against a judge without any proof, and indicted supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox to burden and embarrass them.  Wilcox spoke after the ruling was announced.

“I think Mr. Thomas owes Maricopa County citizens an apology -- which he’ll probably never give,” Wilcox says. “But I think he should apologize for not only violating the trust that the citizens put on him, but also the tremendous cost that he cost Maricopa County.”

Thomas and his supporters will speak publicly this morning. He issued a written statement after the hearing saying corruption had won and justice had lost. Thomas says he pursued the corruption cases in good faith, but the political and legal establishment blatantly covered up and retaliated against him.

That’s not the view of John Gleason, the lawyer who tried the case. He says it’s the most remarkable attorney misconduct he’s ever seen.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been a lawyer discipline case of the magnitude of this particular case, and the nature of the allegations and the nature and the length of the trial,” Gleason says. “The complexity of the trial and the number of witness, so there are a lot of unique aspects about this case.”

The actions of Thomas, Aubuchon and Alexander have cost the county $1.5 million in attorneys fees, and $1.25 million in victim settlements -- with more settlements still to come. But their actions have also undermined public trust says former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley.

“I think quite frankly that the actions of Thomas hurt the entire justice system dramatically,” says Romley. “And it’s going to take years to recover and recover that trust. Which is very unfortunate.”

Romley says for that trust to come back, one more thing needs to take place. He says the Department of Justice needs to finish its investigation of what role Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio played in this whole affair. Evidence from the disciplinary case shows Arpaio’s office worked hand-in-hand with prosecutors.

“It’s time we make a call,” Romley says. “It’s time we get back to normalcy. Feds, if you have a criminal investigation with some merit to it, bring it. If you don’t they have a right to know there are no charges as well. We need to get this behind us.”

Since December 2009, a federal grand jury has been investigating Arpaio and his since disbanded anti-public corruption unit. One of the victims of that unit, Supervisor Wilcox, has no doubt that Arpaio will be held accountable.

“He will fall,” says Wilcox. “Because you can not violate justice in the manner that Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio have done. Again, justice may move slow, but it will move and all of Maricopa County will benefit for it.”

Wilcox is suing the county for enduring what she calls 'three years of hell.' Fellow supervisor Don Stapley and others have also sued because of the actions of Arpaio and Thomas.





Read the opinion from the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Arizona Supreme Court.

Listen to the full hearing.

KJZZ aired special coverage of the panel's findings Tuesday morning. Host Steve Goldstein spoke with reporter Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez; Mark Harrison, legal ethics expert from the Phoenix firm Osborn Maledon; Jack LaSota, former Arizona Attorney General; and Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney for Arizona. Listen to the discussion.