For now, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors can continue to hire attorneys outside the County Attorney’s Office to handle the board’s legal issues.
The Arizona Supreme Court on Sept. 14 declined to consider a special appeal filed by Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas that sought to overturn a trial court judge’s earlier decision that allowed the county board of supervisors’ to create its own division of attorneys. It ruled against Thomas on procedural grounds, and not necessarily because his petition lacked merit.
The rejection came swiftly, only a few days after Thomas filed a petition for special action on Sept. 11. An order by Justice Michael Ryan cited that under the court’s procedural rules, Thomas’ filing was “insufficient to justify” filing the petition with the Supreme Court, meaning the appeal should have been filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals.
At issue is an August decision by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Donald Daughton, who sided with the county’s board of supervisors. The board has been engaged in a feud with the County Attorney’s Office since the December indictment of Supervisor Don Stapley on almost 120 criminal charges. Thomas’s office accused Stapley of failing to publicly disclose a host of his financial deals spanning the past decade.
Stapley has denied the accusations and hired attorneys Tom Henze and Paul Charlton to contest the charges. To date, nearly half of the charges have been dismissed.
And in response to the indictment, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors formed its own division of civil attorneys in a move that precluded Thomas’ office from serving as the board’s counsel.
By seeking relief through special action filed with the Arizona Supreme Court, Thomas sought a speedier process than what could have been achieved if Daughton’s decision had been contested to the state Court of Appeals.
Daughton’s decision found that the county attorney’s office had not abided by rules established by the Arizona Supreme Court that create “professional obligations” for attorneys dealing with potential conflicts of interest with clients.
However, the judge also ruled that when Thomas complies with the court’s rules for attorney conduct, the board would be required to have the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office handle legal work that does not present a conflict of interest.
Thomas spokesman Barnett Lotstein said the petition would be filed with the Arizona Court of Appeals on Sept. 14.
“It’s not a decision on the merits,” he said, speaking to Ryan’s order.