The former No. 2 official in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office testified Thursday that he believed that some allegations contained in criminal charges against a judge weren’t in fact crimes.
Former Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott said at an attorney discipline hearing for former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas that he, Thomas and Arpaio had a meeting to discuss filing charges against then-Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe shortly before the criminal complaint was filed.
Hendershott said the decision to file the charges was made by Thomas and that he still believes some of the allegations in the case against the judge were criminal violations, despite his testimony that some of the allegations weren’t crimes.
“There was enough probable cause to proceed,” Hendershott said.
Donahoe was charged in December 2009 after he disqualified Thomas’ office from its investigation of county officials and a project to build a new court building. The judge was about to hold a hearing on Thomas’ request to appoint special prosecutors to handle investigations against the officials, but that hearing was called off after charges of hindering prosecution, obstruction of justice and bribery were filed against Donahoe.
“All the elements were in place. Justice was basically going down the toilet, and something had to be done” to stop Donahoe, Hendershott said.
Hendershott ran the day-to-day operations of Arpaio’s office for several years until he resigned in late April after being told he was going to be fired in the coming days. His termination arose from an investigative report by another police agency that portrayed Hendershott as an administrator who cut corners in criminal investigations and tried to bully colleagues who objected to his orders.
The ethics hearing against Thomas and two of his former assistants is focusing heavily on the public corruption case that Thomas and Arpaio’s office brought against two county officials and Donahoe. All three cases collapsed in court. Thomas and Arpaio contend they were trying to root out corruption in county government, while county officials say the investigations were baseless and an abuse of power.
If an ethics panel finds that Thomas violated professional rules of conduct, he could face a wide range of punishments, including an informal reprimand, censure, suspension or disbarment.
The sheriff wouldn’t face any punishments if Thomas is found to have violated ethical rules. But the investigations by Arpaio and Thomas have been contentious, and the hearing could provide the first official comment from the state’s legal establishment on whether their allegations were trumped up.
The charges against Donahoe were dismissed by prosecutors without ever going to trial.
The judge was alleged to have failed to disclose the Superior Court’s attorney-client relationship with lawyers who were representing county officials in a grand jury investigation into the new court building in Phoenix. Thomas’ office had said the same lawyers also were under contract with the court to serve as “space planners” for the project.
An attorney pressing the case against Thomas asked Hendershott whether the alleged failure of Donahoe to disclose the relationship was a crime. “It’s not a crime in its totality,” Hendershott said. “Let’s just call it favoritism or ignoring basic law.”
The language of a probable-cause statement that accompanied the charges mirrored a complaint that Hendershott filed earlier against Donahoe with a judicial commission.
Hendershott also said he didn’t believe the probable-cause statement alleged a crime when it said Donahoe had shown a bias when he had been critical of the ability of Arpaio’s office to bring inmates to court on time for their hearings.
Arpaio’s office declined to comment on Hendershott’s testimony.
Still, Hendershott said he believed other allegations in the probable-cause statement were criminal violations.
The charges against Donahoe never alleged that the judge accepted money, but Hendershott said money doesn’t necessarily have to change hands for there to be bribery. He said the benefit to Donahoe was that the investigations of powerful judges and county officials was stalled.
“So what did they get? Protection,” Hendershott said.