Journalists Roundtable

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Local reporters review the week’s top stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary K. Reinhart of "The Arizona Guardian." Sarah Fenske of "The Phoenix New Times". And Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." Maricopa County Andrew Thomas with quite the eventful week. I don't know where to start. The most recent news first and the idea that an appeals court stopped a search warrant on presiding civil court in the county. Talk to us about that.
Sarah Fenske: Barbara McDowell is the presiding judge over the civil division and they got a search warrant signed by someone saying they could raid her home and judge's chambers and she filed a motion with the appellate court asking them to quash or at least stay it and see if there is any reason for it. And the appellate court put a hold on it.
Ted Simons:And the idea is that she has information both on her computer, at home and in her chambers that is protected.
Sarah Fenske: That's what she's saying absolutely. There's a lot of materials that judges have that you don't want necessarily in the hands of law format. The sheriff's office made attempts to get it before. They filed two different lawsuits to get the rights to see emails by Maricopa County judges and been denied both times and there's a step, even more aggressive, we need a search warrant to come and grab this stuff.
Ted Simons: The idea is that -- she's also involved -- and we'll get more on this later -- involved in the federal racketeering suit filed by the sheriff and county attorney.
Sarah Fenske: They're convinced she's at the center of a criminal enterprise and I hate to say that on the air because it makes it sound like she's really corrupt and they haven't offered much evidence other than her judges have made rulings that they don't like. She's made rulings they don't like.
Mike Sunnucks: There's several battles going on. The tower project that the sheriff and prosecutor don't like and the contracting and how it was handled. And various rulings, including one for the Stoddard -- the deputy who took the paper off the defense attorney's desk. There are all intertwined and I think people are going to figure out what the sheriff the prosecutor, their end game is on this.
Mary K. Reinhart: Does anybody know what they're looking for?
Sarah Fenske: They keep trying to claim there's a problem with $337 million court battle. That the superiors want to billion -- the judges -- they're trying to say there's corruption with this and never realized any specific thing. Nothing like that. But making these vague allegations to the point people think they must have something sore they wouldn't be pushing this hard.
Mike Sunnucks: It's unprecedented. We got a sheriff and prosecutor trying to search judges' homes and it seems like it begs for some kind of special prosecutor outside of this and come and look at some of these things, to see if it's legit.
Ted Simons: Let's get to the criminal complaint against judge Gary Donahoe and the presiding criminal court judge here. Bribery, obstruction, all of this stuff they're talking about, this is amazing, really unprecedented stuff.
Sarah Fenske: He's charged with bribery. Oh, someone's given him an envelope with cash, oh, my gosh, a judge doing this. Going to the press coverage, conference, they're alleging no such thing. They're alleging he's a complex conspirator. This is a judge who is about to retire. He probably won't even be practicing in this new court tower. But the conspiracy is somehow, he wants this thing to go forward and they charge him criminally.
Ted Simons: And this was a judge who was going to have a hearing on special prosecutor, the same day the indictment came down, correct? And county attorney Thomas saying if he would have had the hearing, that would have been breaking the law.
Sarah Fenske: He was saying this hearing was part of the ongoing criminal behavior. How do you criminalize a hearing? It's so hard for me to comprehend.
Mike Sunnucks: Thomas and Arpaio have the court of public opinion with them. They're the ones holding the press conferences and you see the judges and the supervisors not really responding very much to this. Mundell put out a complaint, saying they were frivolous, but Arpaio and Thomas are skilled at holding these press conferences and making charges and not often counterbalanced by the other side.
Mary K. Reinhart: I have to think there's a tipping point. It's become like Alice in wonderland. It's taking away from other things that the county does and should be doing. On a financial basis, right, this isn't free. It's costing so much money.
Sarah Fenske: We as taxpayers are paying for, the county at this point is completely non-functional because of this fight.
Ted Simons: Keep it going now. We've got the stopping of the search warrant and criminal complaint against Donahoe and now -- we also had a federal racketeering suit against just about half the people that work for the county, correct?
Sarah Fenske: They're saying the board of supervisors with the five people, saying that several of the presiding court judges are saying a couple of the outside lawyers that work for them are part of a criminal enterprise. That's what the lawsuit says. They're alleging it's part of an ongoing conspiracy and coverup.
Ted Simons: And it's interesting, but at the bottom of all this, it seems to be that court tower.
Sarah Fenske:Yeah.
Ted Simons: Originally, we had heard the sheriff and county attorney and treasurer and others in county government, thought too much money, to waste on a court tower when it could be going to county services. It seems like that's forgotten and it's gotten personal.
Sarah Fenske: People are throwing everything, a big part of this is I think the board of supervisors hired a smart lawyer. He's outmaneuvered Thomas on just about every level and Thomas is so frustrated. That's lead to his charges --
Mike Sunnucks: Personalizing these things. If you make it a personal issue and make it about Joe thinking that this is a sweetheart deal, that they were steering contracts and -- which happens in every town. Whether it's criminal or not. But Joe is good at personalizing it and tends to win those debates with the broad public. Maybe not the media. And insiders. But who do you like better, sheriff or judges and probably most would select the sheriff.
Mary K. Reinhart: You look at the headlines, bribery and perjury and whatever, it sounds bad and it sounds as you dig into the details there didn't appear to be any there there.
Sarah Fenske: At this point, those who covered it intensely, can't find the there there. People think they must have something or they wouldn't be fighting so hard, or maybe they're fighting so hard to cover up they don't have anything.
Mike Sunnucks:he rulings, the list of folks who committed various crimes and it comes down you have the get-tough sheriff versus the liberal judges. That plays well even if there's nothing there there.
Sarah Fenske: That is case if point. The press release, we looked into it and in four of the five cases, person didn't do jail time and it was a person who had marijuana and under Arizona law, you have to have treatment or go to jail. Any time you look at the details on this, wait a minute.
Ted Simons:And we should mention, that judge Donahoe is the one who order -- detention for Stoddard for taking the note. And also rejected some conflict of interest as far as Stapley was concerned, involved in that as well. So it's difficult -- it just seems as though -- and Mary Kay, it seems from a distance all of us are looking at this and trying to figure out who is -- what if these folks really are going somewhere -- let's get Arpaio. You don't know what to believe anymore.
Mary K. Reinhart: Right, and I think the more that these indictments and charges and allegations add up, I think frankly, to people who are actually paying attention, the less they mean. It's really, you know -- I think there's a danger there. I think there's a danger that the public becomes inured. Wait a minute, this is out of control and ignores what is happening.
Ted Simons: There was also -- as we keep moving on -- an indictment against two board of supervisors. Don Stapley. Is it much different than what we've heard and seen in the past.
Sarah Fenske: There was the first Don Stapley indictment December last year. What he didn't disclose on his financial disclosure forms and the second time, they were claiming he spent he had raised it run for the head of the national association of counties and spent it on personal stuff and no prosecutor picked up the charges and they went away. These are those same charges. So it's the second round of Stapley charges that we're seeing reach an indictment stage.
Ted Simnons: Originally, Thomas as a show of good faith, bounce it is off to -- He's taking it over this time. There's no farming out.
Sarah Fenske: Yavapai county dismissed a bunch of charges against Stapley and at that point, Thomas took the case back. Yeah, we were willing to keep looking at the new stuff but Thomas got the sense they wouldn't be as tough on Stapley as he wanted.
Ted Simons:Does that come up with the idea of a conflict of interest. The whole idea, you can't represent us and prosecutor at the same time. That's why the supervisors keep fighting to stop this guy and sees it as a criminal conspiracy.
Mike Sunnucks:The Wilcox -- the loans she got from Chicanos Por La Causa and vote -- they're supposed to disclose the business dealings and loans. There have been questions about the sheriff. But these have come up in debates. You got Joe out there and Thomas out there holding press conferences all the time. And arrested Stapley in the garage and the supervisors don't comment on anything. For the public looking at this. If you're innocent and they may be innocent, you would yell it from the rooftops type of strategy. This is frivolous and Stapley's given maybe one interview and Wilcox, I don't think any. And when you hunker down like that, like tiger woods, it doesn't turn out so well.
Ted Simons: Stoddard, pending appeal, do we know where he was held?
Sarah Fenske: No, we've been trying to find out where was he.
Ted Simons: And you don't know the conditions either.
Sarah Fenske: His lawyer said he had his computer because he had to do online classes. What kind of inmate in sheriff Joe's jail gets a computer? [Laughter]
Ted Simons: As far as his case is concerned, I think the "republic" reported this, the judge in the original case in which he was seen taking the papers, that judge is now claiming she's not getting inmates in time, sometimes not at all from deputies and detention officers into her courtroom, which means she may have to send it to another judge. Something like this. You also had an alleged slowdown, sickout, whatever you want to call it. Candlelight vigils by deputies in response -- again, unprecedented.
Mike Sunnucks: Yeah, they've had problems bringing inmates over from the jails to the court for a while. But some of this is obviously a slowdown. You had the bomb threat. Referencing the public defender's office. And the sheriff doesn't seem to be backing down. Doesn't seem to stop. And the judiciary doesn't know how to deal with this, taking on Arpaio who are making broad charges that resonate with people.
Mary K. Reinhart: It seems to go back to not doing the county's business. That's a basic thing. That the county sheriff's office is supposed to do. If it's not doing that, what else is it not doing while it's indicting people and holding press conferences and running around, not really doing the county's business?
Ted Simons: Politically speaking, the idea of being a public servant, and obviously, the great masses are watching and reading and listening to these stories, are people reaching a point -- have we forgotten these are public servants as opposed to go get 'em, Joe, go get them board of supervisors? Has it become a game as opposed to serving the public?
Mary K. Reinhart: I think it's become a game. It's frightening. I don't think that's what it's supposed to be about.
Mike Sunnucks: This is part of their public corruption efforts, going after people. These open-ended investigations but say nobody is above the law and that plays well with more conservative folks that back the sheriff.
Ted Simons: Ok. What happens from here? Speaking of the attorney general, where is he.
Sarah Fenske: He's supposedly being investigated by them. They brought him up again even though it's been on the back burner for two years. They neutered him by saying he might tie into this somehow. And if he acts, he looks like part of the criminal enterprise.
Mike Sunnucks: This has gone on for a number of years here. Goddard has done not much. Janet didn't do much as A.G. or the governor. McCain and -- they leave Joe alone. You don't see that, they tend to have a non-aggression pact with the sheriff or avoid taking him on because of worries of public opinion.
Ted Simons: Is there any thought, anything you're hearing about the feds coming in and saying it's time to take a look -- I know there's an investigation regarding racial profiling.
Sarah Fenske: From everything I hear, the feds are looking a lot more seriously on the abuse of power on Arpaio's part. I know a number of people they've talked to. Actively pursuing this. Are they going to step in and close it down in the next month? I don't see that. This is a long federal slow moving behemoth thing.
Ted Simons: And you mentioned Arpaio, but Thomas, that would be more difficult for feds to get involved with.
Sarah Fenske: He's immune, a lawyer, it's like judges are supposed to be immune. You can't go after them for doing their official job. They don't like to prosecute someone unless they can got a conviction.
Ted Simons: It's gotten to the point where almost everyone is going to be involved in some way with the suit. Good gracious, how do you prosecute? How do you judge? How did you get that particular aspect of the job done?
Sarah Fenske: Nobody can do anything. The minute you move, you're being accused of being part -- it's such a game, that the business, how can you even get that done.
Mike Sunnucks: The wheel of justice are really slow in these things. Arpaio, when he opens an investigation, it's never closed. The lawsuits, bringing suit against the county and the sheriff for the swat raid on her home. That's pending. And the fed investigation into Arpaio has been going on for a long time with little details or progress that people know other than interviews. For the folks out there, there doesn't seem to be any resolution to any of this.
Ted Simons: Let's get to -- speaking of no resolution -- let's talk about the budget. Talk perhaps of a special session next week. What are you hearing?
Mary K. Reinhart: Speaking of not getting anything done. Government off the rails. We're staring at a $1.6 billion deficit. Getting closer to the end of the fiscal year and not a good chance of anything happens next week. If you were a betting person -- there's a possibility. There's talk today, they're going to get together, the leadership in the house -- the Republican leadership with the governor. She's back from her trip to Washington D.C. and they're going to get together Monday. They have a plan, shopping around a little bit. The best case, one-day session Wednesday or Thursday to try and get that tax referral on the ballot in March and try to put in there reforms of proposition 105 the hybrid, three-year 50%. Whatever you got in the bank, education, healthcare and first things first, they'll take half of that.
Ted Simons: If they can get BPA overturned.
Mary K. Reinhart: Right, voters would have to ok it. And then another piece of some combination of cuts. The things that seems to be holding it up right now is that the house Republicans are firm on the tax cut.
Ted Simons: It's a delayed tax cut, isn't it? One that could take effect --
Mary K. Reinhart: 2011.
Ted Simons: Why would it make sense to go ahead and -- I know they don't support a tax hike, but make it possible for a tax hike if you're going to have a tax cut.
Mary K. Reinhart: The theory, spurring jobs and -- trickle down effect.
Ted Simons: I thought the tax increase was supposed to be a bridge to the tax cut.
Mary K. Reinhart: A small bridge. A couple of rocks and a little pond.
Mike Sunnucks:They tried this before during the regular session. What was that? Hundred years ago? And tried that and got it through the house and it fell apart. Revenue is just -- it's horrible and not going to get better next year and the bridge is getting shorter but it seems like before, the idea of a temporary cut, as long as with the tax cut, made sense because it was farther out.
Ted Simons: Speaking of money, treasurer Dean Martin saying something along the line of IOUs within weeks, the schools may not get -- what's that about?
Mary K. Reinhart: Because we're dependent on the $730 million or so in sale leaseback. It's built into the budget and cash flow. And right now the department of administration says we're on schedule to have that money start flowing in to the treasury in I think mid January, but come February 1st, we've got to [inaudible] To the public school system statewide and if it's delayed a little bit, there's a possibility of IOUs.
Mike Sunnucks: I think a big change in the dynamic. It's close to Christmas, the next session -- I think there's a lot of momentum to say let's wait to January. You have these homeowners out there with the distressed mortgages, they don't want to deal with it. It feels like that down there. No one want to face it and maybe the new year will solve the problems.
Mary K. Reinhart: There's no sense of urgency. It's as if we're not roughly $3.5 billion to $4 billion between this year and next in the red. It's hard to understand when they go to conferences in San Diego and Washington D.C. and -- That was then, this is now. And there is an opportunity, you know, to get something done before Christmas and a lot of these guys are going to be running for re-election in tough races and you wouldn't think they'd want to -- start the legislative session and see how quickly they get something together.
Mike Sunnucks: Nothing about sloth and no big revenue. Nothing original. Kind of in the status quo, we don't have enough votes to get the sales tax on the ballot.
Ted Simons: We've got a minute and a half left. Sarah, I want to get back to the county issues. It seems like -- what do you think is going to happen next?
Sarah Fenske: I think Thomas is going to run for attorney general, I think he'll have to resign from his spot. I hate to say it, that will take care of the problem.
Mike Sunnucks: Arpaio is worried they'll put someone in there like Romley and that will be a big fight. More fighting, basically.
Mary K. Reinhart: Good time to be a journalist.
Ted Simons: It really it. We have a year-end journalism prediction show next week. Let's get a jumpstart. You mentioned Andrew Thomas likely to run for attorney general. Can he win?
Sarah Fenske: Yeah, I think he could.
Ted Simons: What do you think, Mary Kay?
Mary K. Reinhart: Absolutely.
Ted Simons: What do you think?
Mike Sunnucks: Yeah.
Ted Simons: All right. We'll stop it right there. Great stuff.

Mary K. Reinhart:The Arizona Guardian;Sarah Fenske:The Phoenix New Times;Mike Sunnucks:The Business Journal;

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