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Judge rules for cameras in Thomas discipline hearings

Judge William O'Neil (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Judge William O'Neil (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

A judge has ruled that cameras will be allowed in the attorney discipline proceedings of former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and one of his former deputies, despite objections from the pair that the cameras would hinder the proceedings.

Thomas and his former deputy, Lisa Aubuchon, said allowing video and still photographs of the hearings would create a circus atmosphere, prejudice juries in future lawsuits involving the two attorneys and intimidate witnesses. They also said the media will be unfair in its coverage of the proceedings, which could see both attorneys disbarred.

Judge William O’Neil, the state’s presiding disciplinary judge, rejected the request, saying the coverage will better inform the public “that is presently left with little other than innuendo or partisan conjecturing.”

Nothing would create more public distrust than closing the proceedings, O’Neil wrote.

He also wrote in an eight-page order that any irresponsibility on the part of the press is not enough reason to close the proceedings.

O’Neil suggested the media will pay its own price in the form of lost credibility if it chooses to skew its coverage.

“Biased reporting assures a tree without bloom or fruit and tragically assures a public’s lack of trust in the very institute of a free press,” the judge wrote.

The State Bar of Arizona began to scrutinize Thomas, who resigned in April 2010 to run for attorney general, when Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo found that he abused his authority while prosecuting Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox on criminal charges.

Thomas and the Bar sparred over the years and, in an effort to avoid a conflict of interest, the Bar asked Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch to appoint an independent investigator to see whether he violated ethical rules.

Berch appointed John Gleason, who heads Colorado’s attorney discipline system, in March 2010 and he submitted his case for probable cause in November.

Former Arizona Supreme Court justice Charles Jones, who was also appointed by Berch, found that Gleason had established probable cause for 32 counts of alleged ethical violations against Thomas and his former deputies Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander.

Gleason filed a complaint in January alleging the trio abused their prosecutorial powers by retaliating against and intimidating Thomas’ enemies to further the county attorney’s political self-interest.

All of the allegations of ethical violations stem from the series of disputes, criminal prosecutions and lawsuits that Thomas brought against his political rivals — and judges who ruled against him in various cases — during a four-year period. All of the criminal cases and lawsuits brought by Thomas were dismissed.

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