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AG candidates duke it out brutally over experience

As debate moderator Rich Dubek looks down, Arizona Attorney General candidates Tom Horne, right, a Republican, answers a question as Felecia Rotellini, left, a Democrat, looks on during a debate sponsored by Valley Leadership, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

As debate moderator Rich Dubek looks down, Arizona Attorney General candidates Tom Horne, right, a Republican, answers a question as Felecia Rotellini, left, a Democrat, looks on during a debate sponsored by Valley Leadership, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The candidates for Arizona attorney general have made the race less about the issues facing the state’s next top prosecutor and more a contest of experience a�� and their assessments of each other are brutal.

Republican Tom Horne said Democrat Felecia Rotellini misrepresented herself as a veteran prosecutor when she didn’t bring one criminal case to trial in her 13 years as an attorney for the attorney general’s office and has scant experience in trying civil cases. “That does not make you a veteran prosecutor,” Horne said.

Rotellini said Horne was trying divert attention from his absence of prosecutorial experience and the revocation of his license to sell securities decades ago. “Mr. Horne is desperate to come up with something that he can attack me on,” Rotellini said.

Horne, the state’s superintendent of public instruction since 2003, won the Republican primary by a thin margin over former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. As the state’s schools chief, he helped Republican legislative leaders in a legal dispute over Arizona’s school programs for students learning English.

Rotellini, who served as Arizona’s superintendent of financial institutions from 2006-2009, narrowly beat state Rep. David Lujan in the Democratic primary. Her tenure as a financial regulator was marked by a settlement from a money transfer service on allegations that some of its outlets didn’t comply with laws intended to combat money laundering and illegal immigration.

If elected, Horne said he would vigorously defend Arizona’s new immigration law in court and would join a lawsuit on the state’s behalf to challenge the Obama Administration’s health care overhaul. Rotellini said her priorities would be to prosecute fraud against consumers and battle drug and immigrant smugglers by attacking their flow of money.

Their priorities, however, have been overshadowed by attacks on each other.

Her opening salvo in a Sept. 8 televised debate zeroed in on the revocation of Horne’s license to sell securities in the early 1970s for failing to keep accurate books and not keeping enough capital on hand for purchases and sales.

“I’ve prosecuted securities fraud, he’s committed it,” Rotellini said.

Horne dismissed it as a 40-year-old mistake that occurred as he was working his way through law school. “I was in over my head, and I didn’t keep good records. I acknowledged that. But it doesn’t follow that I’m not an ethical lawyer,” Horne said in an interview, declining to say whether investors lost money. He said there were no fraud allegations in his settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Horne also failed to disclose in 1997-2000 corporation filings for his law firm that his investment business from his law school days had gone bankrupt. He said that was a minor mistake on an obscure form that was completed by his office manager.

About a week after the debate, Horne launched an attack of his own when his campaign issued a statement saying that Rotellini “has in fact never tried a case in her entire life.”

Rotellini later produced records showing that, while working in the private sector, she was the lead lawyer in two civil jury trials in Maricopa County and tried two other civil cases in Yavapai County as an assistant to the lead attorney. While at the attorney general’s office, she represented the state in a 28-day hearing before an administrative law judge in a civil case against a collections agency.

She said most of her tenure at the attorney general’s office was occupied by civil consumer and financial fraud cases, but that she also gained experience as a criminal prosecutor by bringing indictments and concluding cases with guilty pleas.

Still, she hasn’t tried a criminal case, a fact that Horne has hammered on, even as he acknowledged that his campaign’s claim about Rotellini’s trial experience wasn’t correct.

“It’s very close to being right, and it’s what all the evidence at the time showed,” Horne said.

As for his own experience, Horne was a lawyer in private practice with an expertise in construction law until he became the state’s schools chief. He said he tried more than 25 civil cases and worked for about 15 years as a special assistant attorney general a�� a contract employee a�� handling civil cases for the state. Horne hasn’t prosecuted any criminal cases.

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  1. The sad truth is that as a trial lawyer, Horne is masterful at manipulating facts. He’s chosen to distort Rotellini’s very real record as a prosecutor in the AG’s office over the hair-splitting issue of jury trials. Yet, he trivializes the deficiencies in his own background. We could believe he was a young man “over his head” when he committed his securities infractions if he hadn’t so carefully hidden his record all these years.

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