Thursday, February 25, 2010

More Maricopa

While we've been watching the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals turning back flips to avoid actually dealing with the problem presented by Charles Hood who ended up on death row after a trial presided over by a judge who'd been having an affair with the prosecutor behind the backs of their respective spouses, the good folks in Maricopa County have been sorting things out in their own playground.

You'll recall that after Andy Thomas and Sheriff Joe brought civil and criminal charges against, and otherwise harassed and threatened bunches of Superior Court judges and other county officials who pissed them off  failed to kowtow to them were perhaps corrupt, the defense bar began filing motions asking that Andy's entire office be disqualified from handling criminal prosecutions.  After all, if the prosecutor is intimidating the judge - directly or indirectly - how fair can the trial be?

Since all legal action in the county's courts that might involve any official is now in a sort of receivership, those motions were assigned to Judge Wallace Hoggatt of Cochise County.  On Tuesday, Hoggatt issued an order dismissing 27 of them that had no direct connection to any of the county's insanity (hearings are to be held in March on 12 more).  A spokesman for Andy Thomas told the Arizona Republic that Thomas had been vindicated.
[A] complete and total victory for the County Attorney's Office.
I suppose it depends on your definition of vindicated. 
The motions were not made, Judge Hoggatt wrote, "to harass the prosecution."
They were filed to address a bizarre and unprecedented state of affairs in Maricopa County. If Mr. Thomas is the kind of the person his detractors make him out to be, he has no one to blame but himself for the flood of disqualification motions. Even if he ultimately proves not to be the kind of person described in the motions, one thing would nonetheless remain true: the present defendants and their attorneys did not create the current circumstances.
Still, if you're going to argue that taking Thomas and his office off the cases would reduce the level of distrust and suspicion in Maricopa, well, it's way too late for such a simple remedy.
[F]rom what this Court can gather from afar, public suspicion in Maricopa County is intense and is directed at many different actors in the ongoing controversy. Nothing this Court could ever say or order would have any realistic likelihood of reducing the level of public suspicion.
Maricopa, you see, is a mess.  It's really beyond help.  But there's too much work to do (the court is the fifth busiest in the nation, and granting the motions would screw up, literally, thousands of prosecutions.


Even Andy might have a harder time finding the silver lining in the decision of Pima County Judge John Leonardo 's order first disqualifying him from the prosecution of County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and then dismissing the 42 count criminal indictment against her.  Sarah Fenske put it plainly in the Valley Fever blog at New Times.
In his ruling today, Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo did not just smack down Maricopa County [Atttorney] Andrew Thomas and his ambitions of prosecuting the case against Superviosor Mary Rose Wilcox.

He smacked him down, he smoked him, and then he stomped on him for good measure.
That may sound over the top, but it sure isn't by much. Andy, you see (and his good pal Joe) had an actual conflict of interest that corrupted the entire proceeding.  What sort of conflict?
Based on substantial evidence contained in the record, it is the finding of the court that the County Attorney has the following conflicts of interest between his duty to impartially exercise his prosecutorial discretion and:
1) his efforts to retaliate against members of the MCBS, including defendant, for actions they allegedly carried out in concert with each other against his office and against him personally as alleged in the civil RICO complaint;

2) his attempts to gain political advantage by prosecuting those who oppose him politically, including Defendant;
3) his political alliance with the Maricopa County Sheriff who misused the power of his office to target members of the MCBS for criminal investigation;
4) his duty to provide confidential, uncompromised legal advice to members of the MCBS, including Defendant, on matters forming the basis of charges in the indictment.
That's strong stuff.

Leonardo does allow that the case could be brought again if Thomas were to appoint not a special prosecutor but a wholly independent one.  Thomas would have to "relinquish total control" to that prosecutor.  

When your case is based not on evidence of corruption but on the hope of "gain[ing] political advantage," a truly independent prosecutor isn't likely to be particularly helpful.

Thomas, of course, said he plans to appeal.

And as Ron Popeil might say, "That's not all!"

Shortly after the Leonardo smackdown, Thomas himself dismissed the criminal case against Don Stapley, another of the Maricopa County Supervisors.  And then he dismissed the criminal case against Judge Gary Donahoe.

Oh, he did ask the County Supervisors for a meeting to discuss appointing special prosecutors to bring charges against them. 

Shockingly, they declined.

h/t Balco via Bobby Frederick and to Nick of dicta.

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