Facing possible disbarment, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas took the stand to testify in his ethics hearing. Arizona Republic reporters Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Michael Kiefer provide an update on the hearing.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Facing the possibility of disbarment over accusations of ethical misconduct, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas took the stand today to testify in his ethics hearing. Joining me to talk about the hearing are "Arizona Republic" reporters Yvonne Wingett-Sanchez and Michael Kiefer. Both reporters have been closely following the case. Good to have you here. Okay, Thomas takes the stand, first appearance in this whole affair. Correct? What'd he say?
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: First appearance. He didn't want to draw attention to himself apparently once the thing began in early September, September 12th, with the opening statements. And so he chose according to his attorneys, not to attend until he was actually called to testify.
Ted Simons: So what did he say?
Michael Kiefer: It was testy. We in our first story we wrote we called him taciturn. He was really being aggressively followed down by the independent bar counsel, asking him very pointed questions about the events that led him there, particularly having to do with filing charges against sitting judge and filing a civil racketeering suit against several judges, the board of supervisors, and other officials.
Ted Simons: Describe the scene. And compare this to maybe some previous testimony.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: Sure. There was a lot of media there today. I think everyone was really excited to hear what he was going to say. He really hasn't talked about this bar investigation in depth since he came out in December of last year denouncing it, calling it a political witch hunt, with his wife by his side. He made no apologies for any of his actions.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like from your reporting unrepentant, showing no remorse, no regret, defiant, if you will?
Michael Kiefer: There's a sense from both Andrew Thomas and Lisa Aubuchon that they were on a righteous course rooting out corruption. And they still stick to that, they still stick to that principle, that there were crimes being committed that there was a conspiracy going on and never really never waived from that.
Ted Simons: Did he struggle at times to explain the conspiracy, or explain exactly who took the bribe and what is a bribe?
Michael Kiefer: The bribe was a difficult question, because as we saw him talk today, he said he had charged Judge Gary Donahoe, who was presiding criminal judge, with being an accessory to a bribe, having to do with bringing another attorney to be hired to handle court matters. And that's different from what he said at the time. Because I recall at the time during a press conference he literally turned to me during the press conference and said, "Help me with this" to explain what the bribery was. I couldn't. I had no idea.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: He couldn't explain it to independent bar counsel today either when he was asked "Where's the bribe?" He couldn't point to it.
Michael Kiefer: In one of the issues here, did he file those charges to stop a court hearing that Judge Donahoe was going to have that very afternoon? And at the time, we had the impression, the reporters had the impression that that is exactly what was going on. Today he said that in fact he was inviting the media to attend the hearing that afternoon.
Ted Simons: I remember having Andrew Thomas on this program saying -- regarding the Rico suit saying, "Just wait. When you get the information, when you see the evidence, just wait." Is there any indication that there is evidence of really any kind of that the judge took a bribe?
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: In their minds, yes. In their minds, Donahoe was protecting his boss, Barbara Mundell, he was protecting Don Stapley from prosecution, he was getting a new court tower, he was being allowed to keep his title as presiding criminal judge, and in their mind that amounted to a crime.
Ted Simons: In their mind it sounds as if they believe everyone, virtually everyone with some level of authority and power in county government was in on this in some way. Is that still his position?
Michael Kiefer: I believe it is. And it has been a question all along, when Sheila Polk talked before, she said quite pointy, even if you prove these things, it's -- even if you prove everything you set out to prove, there's no evidence that crimes actually took place.
Ted Simons: I asked Michael, I want to ask you as well, did it seem like he struggled did it seem like he was having a hard time explaining his theories?
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: Yeah there were points where he had a hard time showing in the document, in the complaint where does it say there was a bribe? Where does it say it was conspiracy? How do votes by the board of supervisors amount to conspiracy? How does the hiring of Thom Irvin to work on the court tower project, how is that criminal?
Ted Simons: Right. Go ahead.
Michael Kiefer: It became testy at times from both sides. The judge would step in and say, that's not the question you were asked, or he would tell the independent bar counsel, you're being argumentative. At one point he said that. So it got testy.
Ted Simons: The idea, again, from your reporting, I thought I heard him maybe throw Rick Romley under the nearest transportation device, saying something about be careful of Don Stapley or something along those lines. Lisa Aubuchon, it seemed like he may have looked for the nearest bus station for her as well. Was he throwing folks under the bus here?
Michael Kiefer: I don't know exactly. What he said was that Rick Romley warned me about Don Stapley, saying he has --
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: He has a developer's mentality. He promised that implied he played fast and loose. Romley will say I never told him that. But he -- and he was trying to make it a distinction between him personally, his role as county attorney, Lisa Aubuchon, and the agency.
Michael Kiefer: The office, right. And he referred a few times to Lisa Aubuchon's MACE unit.
Ted Simons: Had he ever done that before?
Michael Kiefer: I'd never heard that before.
Ted Simons: Interesting. Let's -- before we get to Aubuchon, how did -- can you tell how this is going over with the panel? Is there any indication at all? Any facial reactions, any Perry Mason type look at the jury box business?
Michael Kiefer: No. The only time I saw facial reaction was actually last week during the Rachel Alexander testimony when the bar counsel read into the record some things that had been published on her website talking about what a sham the proceedings were, and at that point you could see the panelists' faces, that was the first time they'd heard it, and that didn't go over well.
Ted Simons: Lisa Aubuchon's testimony, can you talk about that? Let us know, were there any surprises there? Again, she did not seem like she had any remorse, any regret. Any problems at all.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: She said I have no remorse, I wouldn't do anything differently. She was very confident, very self-assured. I thought she came off, you know, she came off pretty well. She's one tough cookie.
Michael Kiefer: She did very well. I remember there was one point where everybody smiled where she finished the bar counsel's sentence.
Ted Simons: Interesting.
Michael Kiefer: He was struggling for words and she finished the question for him.
Ted Simons: Okay. Again, with Lisa Aubuchon, is this -- is there any indication how this is going over? Again, the panel has to decide whether or not these people committed such malfeasance they should not be attorneys anymore. Which is serious business, and yet it's a pretty strong case presented so far.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: You can tell the panel can tell he's into it. He's looking over at the witnesses, he has his hand on his chin, he's looking -- and there's times when O'Neil does the same thing. You can't really tell what he's thinking, though he has asked quite a few questions. You can't tell which way these guys are going to go.
Michael Kiefer: No, but there's another element too, in that if Thomas and Aubuchon truly believe what they were doing, if they were acting in good faith, part of the question is, did they knowingly commit certain acts?
Ted Simons: And another question, where does Sheriff Joe Arpaio fit into all this? I know some of his MACE deputies testified. How does he if it into all this?
Michael Kiefer: He doesn't recall.
Ted Simons: Besides not recalling.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: He -- Thomas, Aubuchon, others have put him in the middle of key conversations, the decision to file a RICO suit, the decision to charge Donahoe, but his detectives, their testimony was really very interesting. What strikes me is that along the way the detectives from MCAO and MCSO had the feeling that something just wasn't quite right. It was bizarro world. Things were running backwards. You had a prosecutor who was bringing draft indictments before investigations even began. Had you her -- Lisa Aubuchon asking detectives to swear to charges that they knew nothing about. She was running the show. And these detectives felt very uncomfortable with it. One of them even went to internal affairs to complain. He was threatened that he would be charged with insubordination if he didn't do what he was told to do. These people, I don't know if they snuck records out of the office, but they took records with them, kept them in their gun safe, locked them away in case they ever needed to pull them out down the road. And that's what happened. They're using them now, they've testified they've used them for the federal grand jury investigation, that is still ongoing as of today according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Ted Simons: And I want to wrap it up with that federal grand jury investigation. How much of what has been said so far do you think is going to be big stuff or substantive stuff to this investigation?
Michael Kiefer: I think that's really hard to tell. We have heard a lot of this information before, I think we're seeing more detail now. We have seen FBI agents at this hearing, at least Aubuchon's merit commission hearing, which took place some months ago. It's hard to say how much is going to if it in. But the story is consistent.
Ted Simons: All right. You guys are doing a great job covering this. We thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Horizon." Thank you.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez: Thank you.
Michael Kiefer: Thank you, Ted.
Yvonne Wingett Sanchez : Arizona Republic reporter,Michael Kiefer : Arizona Republic reporter