A request by Maricopa County prosecutors to appoint special prosecutors to press criminal cases against three county officials was denied Jan. 27.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office had asked retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor to appoint three prosecutors to handle criminal cases against two county supervisors and the county’s presiding criminal judge and any future cases arising from those investigations.
McGregor said she didn’t have the jurisdiction to appoint special prosecutors and that the request by prosecutors didn’t provide a basis for her or a court to exercise such authority.
The Board of Supervisors had refused to ratify an earlier attempt to hire special prosecutors, arguing the County Attorney’s Office didn’t follow procurement rules and that two of the three prosecutors didn’t live in Arizona and, therefore, didn’t meet a requirement that special prosecutors be residents of the county.
The County Attorney’s Office said it doesn’t face a conflict of interest but that the appointment of special prosecutors would eliminate any allegations of conflicts that are now slowing down the cases. The office also said supervisors and other county officials who are under criminal investigations are trying to protect themselves by trying to dictate who will press the cases in court.
Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors will file a request asking a court to appoint special prosecutors.
Though McGregor was appointed about a month ago to oversee disputes by the county attorney and sheriff against some county judges and the Board of Supervisors, the retired justice is acting as a “special master” who is trying to keep order in the cases and isn’t a judge who is assigned to the cases, Lotstein said.
“We are not disappointed in the ruling at all, because she gave us the direction that we asked for,” Lotstein said.
The office wanted to hire two former prosecutors from Washington, Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, and James Rizer, a Phoenix attorney who used to work as a county prosecutor. diGenova is a former U.S. Attorney for Washington who led the prosecution of John Hinkley Jr., who wounded President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his chief ally, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, are embroiled in nasty legal disputes with county officials and judges.
Thomas and Arpaio have filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against a group of county administrators, judges and attorneys, accusing them of a conspiracy to hinder an investigation into a $341 million court building under construction in Phoenix and the investigation of against Supervisor Don Stapley.
The County Attorney’s Office had sent an earlier criminal case against Stapley to a neighboring county to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. That case has since been dismissed, and a grand jury has indicted Stapley on similar allegations. Stapley has pleaded not guilty to the charges.