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Horne campaign finance cases delayed

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A hearing into whether Attorney General Tom Horne violated state campaign finance laws is being pushed back because of a murder case.

And it’s not even one involving his office.

Administrative Law Judge Tammy Eigenheer on Thursday moved the case of Horne and Kathleen Winn to Feb. 10. The case of whether Horne and Winn were engaged in illegal coordination of finances for his 2010 campaign had been set to start Jan. 27.

The move came after Michael Kimerer, Horne’s attorney,  said he will be in the middle of arguments over a planned new trial for Debra Milke.

She was convicted in 1990 of murdering her 4-year-old son, Christopher. But the conviction was overturned earlier this year because defense attorneys were not told information about Armando Saldate Jr.

He was the police detective who testified that Milke confessed to him, a confession that was not recorded. But jurors never got to hear about various instances in other cases which were thrown out because judges ruled that Saldate either lied under oath or a suspect’s constitutional rights were violated.

The moves to retry Milke present problems not only for Kimerer. Larry Debus, one of the lawyers representing Winn, said he will be busy in January because he represents Saldate.

At issue is a last-minute television commercial ahead of the 2010 race. That commercial, paid for by Business Leaders for Arizona, run by Winn, attacked Felecia Rotellini, Horne’s Democratic foe.

In October, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk ordered Horne and Winn to refund most of the $513,340 spent on that commercial. Polk said there is evidence of coordination between Horne and Win, which made the commercial an illegal “in-kind” contribution to Horne’s campaign because it circumvented limits on how much individuals can give.

“The content of the emails between Winn and (campaign consultant Brian) Murray, coupled with the timing of those emails and the phone calls between Winn and Horne provide convincing proof that Horne and Winn coordinated on the development of the political message to be conveyed by the Business Leaders for Arizona anti-Rotellini advertisement,” Polk wrote.

Both Horne and Winn are contesting the findings, with the first step being a hearing before Eigenheer. Their attorneys, along with Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Jack Fields, said they anticipate it will take three to four days to present all the evidence.

With the later date, Eigenheer on Thursday set a Jan. 6 deadline for any pre-hearing motions, with responses due by Jan. 21. She also gave the lawyers through Jan. 23 to provide a list of witnesses along with a general description of what they are expected to say.

Kimerer said he is hoping it does not even get that far.

He intends to try to have the case thrown out based on Horne’s contention that the limits on how much individuals can give to campaigns — $840 at the time of the 2010 race — is unconstitutionally too low. If that is the case, it is irrelevant whether anyone gave more money to help Horne get elected and the case against him would go away.

But it’s unlikely Eigenheer would rule that way: When she heard similar arguments in an earlier version of the case, Eigenheer said it is not her role as an administrative law judge to decide whether statutes are constitutional.

That earlier case against Horne and Winn was brought by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. But Eigenheer threw that out, ruling that Secretary of State Ken Bennett should never have referred the case to Montgomery in the first place.

She pointed out that state law requires those complaints to go to the Attorney General’s Office — headed by Horne, and where Winn now works.

Montgomery argued that made no sense, given the “obvious conflict,” and said Bennett was entitled to seek out someone else to pursue the matter.

In the end, Bennett did refer the case to the Attorney General’s Office, with an aide to Horne referring the matter to Polk.

Fields said he intends to pursue the case against Horne and Winn different than what Montgomery had tried.

He said that Montgomery’s case essentially relied on the sheer number of contacts between the two to prove there had been coordination. Fields said he will instead focus on several specific calls and e-mails that he believes proves the case.

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