Maricopa County Politics

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Arizona Republic reporter JJ Hensley discusses breaking news that a Superior Court judge has dismissed charges against Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and disqualified County Attorney Andrew Thomas from the case.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Deep cuts in health care being proposed by Governor Brewer would mean big job losses and other financial hits to the state. That's according to a new report put out by Arizona State university economists, commissioned by the Arizona hospital and healthcare association. The report says that the state will lose 42,000 jobs and close to $3 billion if the governor makes her cuts to health care. The report also says that Arizona hospitals would lose $1.15 billion.

Ted Simons: Visiting Maricopa County superior court judge John Leonardo today dismissed charges against County supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. The judge also disqualified County attorney Andrew Thomas from the case. Here now to talk more about all this is Arizona republic reporter J.J. Hensley. Good to have you back. Thanks for joining us.

J.J. Hensley: Thank you.

Ted Simons: This is a big bombshell here. What do you make out of all this?

J.J. Hensley: It all came out of testimony last Tuesday where Thomas and Sheila Polk testified for the better part of the afternoon in front of judge Leonardo. I don't know. Right now I think the biggest news was Thomas was disqualified because of his conflict of interest or the appearance of the conflict of interest. The judge ruled he had both of those, but that conflict triggered the dismissal of the Wilcox case.

Ted Simons: The conflict was also based, the judge mentioned, retaliation against the board, retaliation against political opponents, all because of that conflict of interest.

J.J. Hensley: Right. Those were things that were all laid out in the motion Wilcox's attorney filed that triggered that hearing last Tuesday. The judge agreed with them on all of those points. The most interesting thing about his ruling today was the political alliance with the Maricopa County sheriff who the judge said misused the power of his office to target members of the board of supervisors for criminal investigation.

Ted Simons: Why is that especially interesting?

J.J. Hensley: Because the sheriff's office, as they pointed out this afternoon, didn't have anyone testify at that hearing. The judge's ruling on that was largely based on the testimony from Yavapai County attorney Sheila Polk who had these cases for the better part of six months.

Ted Simons: The response by the County attorney's office, have we heard much yet?

J.J. Hensley: Just this afternoon he announced he was also filing motions to dismiss the case against Don Stapley and a criminal complaint against judge Gary Donahoe. Both of those, essentially he says, because if he's already conflicted out of the Wilcox case, I'll just cut to the chase and dismiss these other cases, too. He, at the same time, called for a special meeting of the board on Friday to appoint special prosecutors, which the judge in his ruling today, said you still have the power to appoint independent prosecutors. Once you appoint them, you're out of the case.

Ted Simons: The operative word there I was going to say is appoint. They can't be hanging out.

J.J. Hensley: That came in a case where they had an interview with the sheriff's office. At that time Polk's office had been appointed by special prosecutors of Thomas' office. She said she was surprised to find Andy Thomas and representatives of his office at that meeting and they had been continuing to give advice to sheriff's investigators on how to proceed in these cases she was supposed to be prosecuting.

Ted Simons: Those factors in that was the misuse of power the judge talked about. Sounds like the Polk testimony was key in this decision.

J.J. Hensley: Seems like the judge really paid attention to that. Because one of the things she said at the time in the testimony last Tuesday was that she felt like the County attorney's office was bowing to pressure from the sheriff's office to take these cases back from her office because her prosecutors weren't granting the grand jury subpoenas and other items related to the case that the sheriff's investigators were asking for.

Ted Simons: Have we heard any response so far from the sheriff's office?

J.J. Hensley: Officially so far they've not said anything. Some people over there, though, have said, you know, that I don't think they were entirely surprised by this. They don't think that it was a ruling on the merits of the case, just on the role of the prosecutor. They intend to cooperate with the investigator or the prosecutor, whoever is appointed next, and they're standing by the fact that both Stapley and Wilcox have been indicted twice by grand juries.

Ted Simons: So the headlines will read the Wilcox case dismissed, Thomas disqualified and the County attorney has gone ahead now and dismissed, thrown out and said we're not going to bother anymore with Stapley and other aspects therein. But the bottom line is that if an independent prosecutor comes in, Andrew Thomas, the County attorney, can say basically I tried. I did everything I was supposed to do. I wanted these people investigated and look, they're going to be investigated.

J.J. Hensley: Right. And the sheriff's office will say the same thing just as they said they were happy when an independent judiciary was appointed. Though I don't know how happy they were with the outcome of this testimony on Tuesday that resulted in the ruling today. I think one of the other interesting things here to note is that all of this conflict is rooted in the RICO complaint, the federal racketeering complaint that Thomas filed against the board of supervisors, the County judges and outside attorneys that the board had hired. That complaint is still making its way through federal court. Motions are going back and forth, but that complaint and everything in there really created the conflict for Thomas in prosecuting Wilcox, Stapley and others, in addition to the fact that his members of his office had offered advice to Wilcox on her financial disclosure statements.

Ted Simons: We have a meeting board of supervisors and County attorney's office this week?

J.J. Hensley: He's requested it for Friday. I don't know right now if the board is going to agree to that or not, but his request was let's meet Friday. We can appoint these special prosecutors and get on with this thing.

Ted Simons: And we'll take it from there. Thank you for the information. We appreciate it

JJ Hensley:Arizona Republic;

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