Andrew Thomas and two of his former deputies were just doing their jobs when they sued and prosecuted the former county attorney’s political rivals, attorneys defending the trio said today in opening remarks of a discipline hearing.
Thomas’ attorney, Don Wilson, said the lawyer leading the case to disbar Thomas will have to prove he intended to seek retribution, but that Thomas was actually the one who was wronged in some of the disputes he had with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and Superior Court.
“In doing his job, Mr. Thomas was confronted with obstruction and stonewalling,” Wilson said in a 45-minute opening statement.
Independent Bar Counsel John Gleason is also seeking to disbar Lisa Aubuchon and suspend Rachel Alexander, former deputy county attorneys who Gleason said in his opening remarks did Thomas’ dirty work for him.
Gleason spent about an hour laying out the history of disputes between Thomas and the county officials, and explaining that Thomas followed a similar pattern in each.
“Following every dispute, there was retribution,” said Gleason.
Thomas did not attend the opening day of the trial.
But his attorney agreed with Gleason that the first dispute between the board and Thomas began in 2006 over the board’s authority to hire its own counsel.
The board, chaired by Don Stapley, a Mesa Republican, wanted to hire its own lawyer and pay for it out of the board’s budget.
Wilson said Thomas pointed out that he was required by law to represent the board and he was required by law to sue if someone else was hired.
Thomas filed suit and a settlement was reached, but it expired in December 2008, and the board took control of the civil division of the County Attorney’s Office.
Thomas sued again and his two successors, Rick Romley and Bill Montgomery continued the suit until the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the County Attorney’s Office. Wilson said it was Thomas, however, who got accused of acting unethically.
And when Thomas, who resigned in April 2010 for an unsuccessful run for Attorney General, made judges or county officials unhappy, they filed complaints with the State Bar of Arizona against him.
“Who was doing the retribution?” Wilson said.
Thomas and Aubuchon are both accused of going forward with the first of Stapley’s indictments, referred to in the proceedings as Stapley I, despite knowing that almost half of the 118 counts against him were invalid because of a statute of limitations.
Wilson said it wasn’t Thomas’ job to know the minutia of the indictment and Aubuchon’s attorney, Ed Moriarity, said she found out about the statute of limitations after the grand jury indicted Stapley.
Gleason also told how Sheriff’s deputies and a detective with the County Attorney’s Office refused to sign a criminal complaint against former Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, who was charged by Thomas’ office with bribery and obstruction of justice.
Donahoe had ruled against the County Attorney’s Office in its efforts to investigate how the county was able to build a $345 million court tower during an economic downturn that brought about shrunken budgets and hiring freezes.
Aubuchon also drafted the racketeering complaint, which alleged a criminal conspiracy among county judges, the board and county officials to build the court tower.
Each of the defendants was someone who had a dispute of some kind with Thomas in the past.
Moriarity said an expert will say the complaint had merit and Aubuchon wasn’t motivated by personal interest.
Alexander, who had little trial work under her belt, took over the controversial and complex racketeering complaint.
“She questioned whether she was the best choice for the assignment,” said Scott Zwillinger, Alexander’s attorney.
Thomas convinced her of the importance of the assignment and she was supervised by an experienced attorney and assisted by other experienced attorneys, Zwillinger said.
“Rachel no more belongs here than her supervisors or any of the other lawyers who helped,” he said.