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Retired judge, Gilbert town attorney to investigate Horne

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne listens to opening arguments from Yavapai Deputy County Attorney Benjamin Kreutzberg, in a hearing into allegations that Horne and political ally Kathleen Winn, violated campaign finance laws. (Photo by Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic)

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne listens to opening arguments from Yavapai Deputy County Attorney Benjamin Kreutzberg, in a hearing into allegations that Horne and political ally Kathleen Winn, violated campaign finance laws. (Photo by Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic)

Arizona’s solicitor general has tapped a retired judge and Gilbert’s town attorney to investigate whether Attorney General Tom Horne used the Attorney General’s Office as his campaign headquarters.

Judge Daniel Barker retired from the Arizona Court of Appeals on Dec. 31, 2011. Meanwhile, T. Michael Hamblin worked for the Phoenix City Attorney for 20 years before the Town of Gilbert hired him last year as its top attorney.

Solicitor General Robert Ellman made the choice after the Secretary of State’s Office concluded there is enough reason to investigate allegations that Horne violated campaign finance laws by failing to report “in-kind” contributions stemming from the campaign activities of Horne’s aides.

Ellman, who is employed by Horne but still has some autonomy to act on behalf of the state, said in a written statement that he deputized Barker and Hamblin because they “possess the professional experience and sound judgment” to do the investigation. Earlier in the week, Horne dropped his own internal investigation of the allegations in light of the Secretary of State Office findings.

The office forwarded its conclusions to Ellman, who was expected to farm out the investigation because of Horne’s conflict of interest.

As in another case against Horne, in which he was alleged to have coordinated with an independent expenditure committee during the 2010 campaign, the office followed the protocol of having Ellman choose the investigator.

Meanwhile, Attorney Tom Ryan confirmed that former attorney general staffer Sarah Beattie, whose claims were the basis for the secretary of state’s conclusions, has provided the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office text messages from her cellphone. Additionally, she is going through her emails to turn over correspondence that would firm up her claim that Horne and his top aides had been doing campaign work for the AG on state time.

The Arizona Capitol Times confirmed that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is also investigating Horne.

Ryan insisted that the county attorney potentially has jurisdiction to investigate all of Beattie’s claims. The Secretary of State’s Office had said it has no jurisdiction over claims made by Beattie that did not deal with campaign finance violations.

The secretary of state is making an important distinction, as state law – Arizona’s mini-Hatch Act – prohibits the use of government sources, including equipment and personnel, to influence elections.

In her complaint, Beattie had claimed that Horne asked her to delete campaign-related email that he had replied to from a staffer who mistakenly sent the correspondence from her office email account. Horne admitted to making the request and said it is office policy to delete “non-official email.”

“The county attorney could determine that there are civil offense and criminal offense that have been [made],” Ryan said. “If they find evidence that documents could have been destroyed, that could lead to things like a conspiracy charge and obstruction of justice. Stupid things likes that is worse than the original thing. It’s like Watergate.”

Horne responded with a statement saying any investigation by the County Attorney’s Office is a conflict of interest.

“It is no secret that Bill Montgomery has been a political enemy for a long time. If an investigation is taking place, there is a serious conflict with his involvement. Having his subordinates do the investigation, rather than conflicting it out, is no solution because they know what their boss wants – as does all of Arizona. Any involvement that MCAO has is a serious ethical violation and abuse of power by Bill Montgomery and his subordinates,’’ Horne said.

Meanwhile, a judge scheduled a hearing for July 11 on Horne’s lawsuit seeking to block the state’s campaign finance commission’s investigation into allegations that office employees used work time and resources for Horne’s re-election campaign. Superior Court Judge Dawn Begin set the hearing on Horne’s suit that contends the Citizens Clean Elections Commission lacks the authority to investigate candidates not participating in Arizona’s public campaign funding system.

The commission voted last month to investigate former Horne staffer Sarah Beattie’s allegations to see whether Horne’s campaign received in-kind contributions.

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