An interview with County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Topics include prosecuting members of the County Board of Supervisors.
Ted Simons: His battles with county supervisors have been in the headlines for months. Most recently, Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas was handed a setback when a judge dismissed one of his cases against a supervisor and said that Thomas had a conflict in that case. Today the county attorney handed investigations to two supervisors, involving yet another. Here now to talk about all of this is county attorney Andrew Thomas. Daisy Flores gets both -- gets both cases?
Andrew Thomas: It's on appeal and these other two matters, the second Stapley matter and the Wilcox case will be handled by her. I'm grateful she's willing to take this on. It's a difficult assignment, the reality is you're taking on some very -- a very difficult challenge. These are politically connected people. Our office has been retaliated against as a result of these prosecutions and we've had a tremendous difficulty investigating these matters but somebody needs to do it. I tried to appoint special prosecutors and the board of supervisors refused to approve it. Rather than having the supervisors with nobody to prosecute them, I decided to send this on to Gila county.
Ted Simons: And yet it was taken up to Yavapai county earlier. What's the difference here?
Andrew Thomas: Here's the deal, Ted. I have all along -- I've been trying to find a proper prosecutor's office to handle these. Maricopa County has twice indicted them. And there's attacks against me from the subordinates, the county management has been turned into a guard to protect these individuals and possibly others in the county and thwarted investigation and I've gone to the U.S. attorney's office and I've asked the department of justice in Washington for help. Gone to all of these different offices. Went to the Yavapai County attorney's office. That did not turn out. I've been forced to hand it over to Gila County and there has to be a prosecutor with the resources and will and they've got to go in with their eyes wide open and it's a shame.
Ted Simons: Are you saying that the Yavapai county prosecutor doesn't have the resources or doesn't have the will for it to, as you say, turn out well?
Andrew Thomas: I handed these matters over to Sheila Polk, the Yavapai attorney and had a dispute, as reported to me, with the special prosecutor she had hired who wanted to investigate matters and, as reported to me, she refused to do so and you have these issues going on and I then take the cases back. She agreed. There was no conflict of interest. I tried to appoint special prosecutors to hand it off to them and the board of supervisors has refused to -- we had a judge find there was no conflict, Sheila Polk said there was no conflict and yet once we went through with the indictment, we had all of these new allegations and it's been a tremendous effort to bring these people to justice.
Ted Simons: When the critics will see this, now that there's another county attorney taking over the case, why are they wrong when they say you're basically going to find someone to take this case regardless of what these people find and if the Yavapai county attorney says that the Wilcox case has no merit or the Stapley case needs more work, why is that not good enough?
Andrew Thomas: We've handed these things over because we've been forced to. I've asked to appoint special prosecutors, well qualified, and the board of supervisors has refused even though there was a conflict of interest because the special prosecutors would be investigating their own conduct and whether litigating it for months, the reality is until today, there was nobody to prosecute any member of the board of supervisors if they went out and robbed a convenience store or committed another major crime because of the previous rulings in the situation. We now have a prosecutor. I wish her the best and we're going to provide the -- whatever resources she needs to fully prosecute and I hope she will.
Ted Simons: The ruling in the Wilcox case, were you surprised at that?
Andrew Thomas: Very. And so were the career prosecutors in our office. The allegations made that there's politics behind this, there was no evidence of that before the court. And if you read editorials and surf the net, there's all kinds of allegations out about, but if you read what was in front of the court, there was no evidence to back it up and we have career prosecutors in our office who handled these things and made the charges, decisions presented to the grand jury and they were shocked and deeply offended, these were legitimate prosecutions and to have allegations was not right. We're appealing the decision and I look forward to seeing the integrity of our office upheld on appeal.
Ted Simons: The judge ruled you had a conflict of interest. Obviously there was some concern because it was sent off to the Yavapai prosecutor to begin with. Why chance losing a case if there's the image of a conflict of interest? Why not just go ahead and farm this thing out and again, if you farm it out and someone doesn't agree, take it as it lays. Why is that not good enough?
Andrew Thomas: The problem is I -- as I just outlined it. We had handed it off. It appeared there was a dispute between the Yavapai and her special prosecutor, and at that point, and given the other dynamic, I thought it appropriate to appoint special prosecutors and called Sheila Polk and told her that. The Yavapai county attorney, she didn't have any problem with that. But then the board refused to appoint the special prosecutors. They gave a list of reasons why. And they were all bogus, in my judgment. So at that point, we'd taken the matters back from Yavapai and tried to appoint special prosecutors and had a rule from a superior court judge that found there was no conflict of interest when we sought the first Stapley indictment and we were very surprised and disturbed by the ruling last week by the judge because there just -- we didn't believe there was any basis for that.
Ted Simons: More to what the judge had to say. Not only the conflict of interest but that you had retaliated against the board of supervisors, that you tried to gain political advantage by going after political opponents and that you worked with the sheriff's office to misuse your power. This isn't just not seeing things his way. How do you response to this?
Andrew Thomas: I deny it. Our career prosecutors who handled the case were shocked. There was nothing in the record to support such a finding. The record actually is that I went from one prosecutor's office after another and tried to hire special prosecutors to avoid having to handle the matter. I said I didn't want to handle the cases but someone needs to prosecute these matters so people aren't above the law. I've earned some two million votes from the people of Arizona in the course of my career. I think I know a thing about political advantage. There's no political advantage in pursuing these cases. They have friends throughout government but somebody had to get to the bottom of this. I don't regret trying to get to the bottom of it. I do regret we've had to go from one prosecutor's office to another given the incoming fire we've faced.
Ted Simons: We've got the Pima county judge and the Maricopa County and the Yavapai prosecutor, all of these folks see this differently than you do. Have ruled and testified that way, etc. Are they all wrong?
Andrew Thomas: Well, it's really -- we had a ruling from a Maricopa County judge saying there was no conflict in the first Stapley prosecution and even the Yavapai county attorney agreed there was none and it was based on all that we went forward. It's been since then that we've had this very unusual and disturbing ruling last week which we're appealing and I contend and all of the prosecutors I've spoke to there was no basis in the record for saying -- those are very strong charges and I don't know what that was based on, but we're appealing that and we have found a prosecutor and I hope and trust she will pursue this and I appreciate, again, her willingness to do things.
Ted Simons: I've got to ask you, you hope and trust, but as you mentioned, with Yavapai county it didn't turn out well. If this doesn't turn out well do you continue to pursue --
Andrew Thomas: No, this is it. It's in her hands and I appreciate the fact she took it on but I remind people that a Maricopa County grand jury twice indicted these people. There's serious evidence of serious corruption and we cannot have a situation in which political officials are able to use the power of their office and use their subordinate employees to retaliate, to work the media and do the things that have happened in order to avoid prosecution and it's not right and the smears taken against our office and me personally at every level, they're wrong and I look forward to fully -- to handing these things over as I have and upholding the integrity of our office and me personally.
Ted Simons: The judges and a whole lot of folks here, you talk about serious charges, that's serious stuff and when you say there's a vast criminal conspiracy in county government, is there?
Andrew Thomas: That's not something that we have alleged. What we've alleged is there's three actors in county government and we believe they've worked together to stymie prosecutions. We filed a case in federal court that outlined what went wrong. If I can take a couple of minutes to explain this, you have the board of supervisors funding a $341 million new court tower for the court in the middle of a terrible recession, paying for it in court and you have the court receiving this and then you have them hiring a law firm that represents simultaneously the board and superior court and all three hide that relationship. It turns out that law firm has been paid over a million dollars, not providing meaningful work from what we can tell and we've tried to investigate those three actors' work to shut down the investigations, we believe to retaliate against our offices and what else were we supposed to do? We're going to continue to seek relief from federal authorities. I don't know what else to do. We've been shut down in investigating and prosecuting corruption. The people of the community need to know this. This is serious and we're in a unprecedented situation.
Ted Simons: When you mention those relationships, the presiding judge of Maricopa County charged with bribery. That's serious business there.
Andrew Thomas: It is.
Ted Simons: What bribe did the judge take?
Andrew Thomas: I'm not going to get into the details of the case, other than it was spelled out in the criminal charges. A lot was spelled out in our response to a special action that went to the Supreme Court. That judge Donahoe asked the court to intervene and they declined and declined to give him his attorney's fees but if people are interested, read our response filed with the Supreme Court. That doesn't tell every fact, but we -- what people do not realize is that we have -- we have evidence of -- of a direct agreement to basically hire this law firm in exchange for the court getting a $341 million new court tower and an agreement -- I'm not going to name them on TV. A senior superior court official, a judge, and a senior member of county management and/or the board of supervisors. We have that evidence and the other evidence that supports that allegation and what's happening is these are powerful people. And we're being retaliated against and it is -- it disturbs me greatly as a citizen to see that this can happen in the United States.
Ted Simons: But you're a powerful person as well and we have a Yavapai county prosecutor, a Republican, a conservative Republican, a law enforcement official, as far as we can tell with good credentials, she's using words like totalitarianism between you and the sheriff and the way you're handling the case. And a quote, "tremendous damage to our entire justice system." Again, this is not fooling around here. And many say it is eroding the public trust in the judicial process in Maricopa County in particular. Do you think about that? About the ramifications about when you file a civil racketeering case against judges?
Andrew Thomas: Yes, and it was not done lightly and I would urge anyone interested in the matter, read the civil complaint and what has happened. You've got judges violating their own rules and the board retaliating against our office and taking funding -- I mean blatantly retaliating. You have a law firm that's been enriched, I believe, corruptly. I understand these are serious charges but the facts -- and what they do, they don't deny the facts. What they try is misconstrue, you're just saying it's a big conspiracy -- but the reality is this is a very tough situation because you're dealing with powerful people.
Ted Simons: Last point and we got to let you go after this, but with so many people seeing things differently than you and again, there are a lot of folks in the community right now that deal in a variety of ways with the judicial system and don't get the outcomes they like. But justice is served and they move on. There's a feeling that you simply won't take a ruling as it stands because you're not getting what you want to get. Why are they wrong?
Andrew Thomas: I work within the system and rules. The ruling last week, we're appealing it. It was a ruling not based on the evidence before the court and there were a lot of editorials and things maybe. So we're working within the system. We are appealing and filed the federal RICO suit and we're going to pursue that and if we don't win, we'll appeal. And do what we need to do. It's my job as county attorney to make sure that everyone is treated the same, whether they're a powerful politician or a street criminal and it's obviously a lot easier to prosecute a street criminal. There isn't much sympathy. But political people have a lot of support. Especially when they use the power of their office to retaliate against law enforcement and use their connections in the media and other prosecutors' offices to bring pressure to bear and that's a trouble situation and I'll do my best to fight through it.