Journalists’ Roundtable

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Arizona journalists discuss the week’s top news stories.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Dennis Welch of "The Arizona Guardian." Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. And Mike Sunnucks of "The Business Journal." The state bar disciplinary hearing targeting former county attorney Andrew Thomas heard this week from -- Andrew Thomas. Finally got to hear from him.

Mike Sunnucks: Got a lot of pointed questions, questioning for a couple of days. A lot of questions why he went after basically everybody in county government, supervisors and judges and other folks, where his mine set was and he stood by his decision and didn't give a lot of details how he made the jump, this was a criminal syndicate, the bribery. There's not a lot there, you can disagree with decisions making decisions the court tower but to make -- tower, but to make this jump, I don't know if he made a good case. Whether it leads to a disbarment, that's a listening way out.

Howard Fischer: You didn't see the vast conspiracy that Andy said existed. The bribery and the self-dealing and the fact that judges issued orders specifically to get Andy?

Mike Sunnucks: That's what he saw throughout his tenure within his own office. Didn't trust his senior aides because they were paid by the county and didn't seem like there was a lot of trust there. And Howie is right. It's one thing to disagree with folks and say I don't think you're making good decisions or your motives are bad, but to make these jumps for the indictments and -- it's a grant leap.

Howard Fischer: The most telling part of that testimony was when the bar counsel said have you reviewed the case you brought against the supervisors and everyone else. Yes. Bribery, yes. What specific act rises to the level of bribery and he had a hard time finding that which I think is damming if you're going be questioning to issue a charge.

Mike Sunnucks: This is not just somebody criticizing, that he is were big charges against folks, against sitting judges and big charges against these folks and I think there's a lot of credibility issues there with that.

Ted Simons: Dennis, I think a lot of folks were interested in him saying even his top aide he didn't trust because the aide could have taken over the county position which Thomas decided to run for attorney general, which he did. It sounds as though, everyone the county attorney dealt with he considered had ulterior motives.

Dennis Welch: That the county's top law official doesn't trust anyone. You talk about insulation. When they start getting insulated like this, it always leads, I think, to bad decisions when people are acting like this. They're not trusting their top officials.

Howard Fischer: You didn't see the CAINE mutiny. Checking for the missing bowl of Strawberries.

Mike Sunnucks: The abuse of power, him and the sheriff, following people, checking up on people and questioning them in garages and welfare checks. That gives credibility because if you see a conspiracy, people jump to the conclusions you're doing these things.

Dennis Welch: How dysfunctional is the county government, over the past years, when we've seen these types of things by Thomas and Hendershott recently testified he wanted to put the county in receivership and Arpaio saying I can't remember anything. The types of things we've seen come out of the hearings.

Ted Simons: We've seen and heard Lisa Aubuchon from the attorney's office, as unrepentive and defiant if not more so than Andrew Thomas, you have to wonder, they're testifying for their law license here, how the panel will look at this.

Howard Fischer: This isn't the typical jury, like you're trying to appeal to aunt Maude and uncle Charlie. In some ways that may not be a bad way of doing it. Because if you can say you had a good faith belief, maybe that's a good defense. If you're battling for your law license and saying I had a good faith belief and still believe and made a reasonable judgment and as the prosecutor I'm entitled to a certain amount of discretion, that may be a better defense.

Mike Sunnucks: I'm with Howie, they could say I was elected to do this, we're professionals, here was the evidence, we looked at it. People can disagree with attorneys all the time, but stick to their guns and here's the judgment, we thought they were doing X, Y and Z. But the problem is they went overboard.

Ted Simons: A RICO suit against a presiding criminal -- that's big business there. That's not fooling around.

Howard Fischer: But that's the point, you've done it, you have to defend it, if you come in and say, you know, I was doing this just to rattle his cage, you're dead.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Howard Fischer: You might -- you'll be flipping burgers.

Mike Sunnucks: Arpaio went up this and said he didn't remember anything. He's not facing disbarment, so you have Andy's lawyers facing this, and Joe escapes.

Dennis Welch: I was going it say, to Howie's point, people watching and reading about this, this isn't a criminal proceeding. It may not be good P.R., but in terms of trying to keep your law license, you have to stand behind your decisions and can't go on the stand and say, yeah, we knew it was wrong. What's the panel going to say to that?

Mike Sunnucks They -- they stick to the their guns and the other side has to show a smoking gun maliciousness.

Ted Simons: Couldn't judgment be a smoking gun. If you go after a sitting judge with racketeering and bribery and you can't explain where the bribe was and who took the --

Howard Fischer: You're right, that's as I mentioned, the most damming thing, if you can't show you had reasonable evidence. But judgment is a -- by definition, a judgment call and to the extent that reasonable minds can disagree. Look, we get Supreme Court rulings out of west Washington Street, 3-2 or 4-1, so there's no clear everyone believes certain things that way.

Ted Simons: Sounds like we'll get a decision regarding their law license if March. Until then we'll hear more and continue the process. Howie, financial reports on the Pearce recall election and we know to a certain degree who is spending what on whom. Pearce, sounds like a lot more money than challenger Jerry Lewis.

Howard Fischer: It's good to be the senate president and be able to tap a bunch of lobbyists and because he set a precedent can draw money from outside of Mesa and outside of the district and outside of the state. And the folks who believe he's the front line against immigration. Lewis doesn't have quite as much money. It's a small percentage in comparison, but I'm not sure how much difference that's going to make in the sense this is a high-profile race. Money makes a difference in a regular legislative race and people are focused on the governor's race and the treasurer and the corporation commission and the president. This is the only show in town. Money helps. It gives -- gets you the TV ads.

Mike Sunnucks: All of the business lobbyists are giving to Russ. They're not abandoning ship. I think it shows confidence in him winning if these folks who are insiders down there want to influence --

Howard Fischer: I think it comes down to businesses give to the incumbent. Businesses are chicken. They give to the incumbent and then if the other side says what about me, you become the incumbent, you get our money.

Mike Sunnucks: I think they saw weakness there.

Dennis Welch: I was struck by the fact, 230,000 -- a quarter of a million dollars for a small legislative race, I kept thinking about the law of diminishing returns. In such a high profile race is this money going to make much of a difference? $160,000 or something like that, what Mr. Lewis has raised $68,000. Is that going to make much of a difference? I just don't know in a race like this.

Howard Fischer: Whether it makes a difference, the ultimate decider, get out the vote. Getting the people on election day you've got a list of who voted early -- you know who has been to the polls and finding your supporters and getting them to the poll.

Ted Simons: Did we find out anything regarding Olivia Cortes and who is behind the petition gathering?

Howard Fischer: No SE. Who knows?

Ted Simons: Still don't know?

Howard Fischer: When we talked to Ken Bennett and he's talking about investigating independent committees and I asked, look, what is Olivia's obligation to find out who is spending on her behalf? And he said, for the signs, look, it's not her obligation but if someone drops off a couple of hundred signatures she has an affirmative obligation to find out who financed it and put it on the campaign report as an in-kind contribution. We looked, nothing. And I think someone will have charges.

Ted Simons: You mentioned, secretary of state's office looking at campaign groups. It sounds -- what? Kind of a random audit?

Mike Sunnucks: They picked a couple out of some kind of hat and picked folks. Seems very odd to approach it that way. Wouldn't you want to go after maybe folks you thought had the most to look at?

Howard Fischer: The problem becomes, if you start targeting folks, you're presuming they're guilty and Ken is kind of covering his TUSH on this one. He recognizes we have a new law because of the Supreme Court decision in citizens united and I'm a corporation and I can spend money and don't have to say where it comes from. His concern is that corporations are formed for the purpose of spending money and they're not entitled to the same exemptions from the sources.

Dennis Welch: That's a big deal playing out in the local races like the Phoenix mayor. Where alot money is spent and people want to know who is financing it. There's a big fight going on. It would be interesting to see who is behind them and financing the stuff and challenge that law, think that needs to happen.

Howard Fischer: There's another issue. If you're doing voter education, and I use the term loosely, you don't have to form a committee. You don't have to say where your money is coming from or going to. And their argument, well, we didn't use the magic words vote for or vote against. That's not the way the law reads in Arizona. If you're only doing it in district 18 a month before the election --

Ted Simons: Voter education isn't necessarily influencing a election.

Howard Fischer: No, and this is a section of the state election code if you're simply educating voters -- for example, the center for Arizona policy educates people on how they voted on certain abortion bills, that's not considered to be electioneering.

Dennis Welch: I understand that the standard is they don't really advocate for a particular candidate or particular position or anything.

Howard Fischer: And the courts ruled you do not need those magic words, vote for or vote against.

Dennis Welch: That's the important part you're looking at and that's how they get around this stuff.

Mike Sunnucks: I don't expect much out of this investigation. Doesn't look like there's much teeth. Just some window dressing.

Howard Fischer: I'm going to disagree. The reason Ken is doing this, we've got a mayor's race and a single legislative district race. I want to set the ground rules.

Mike Sunnucks: How about look across border instead of some random drawing?

Howard Fischer: Because he's got a limited staff. State law doesn't give him independent prosecutorial powers. If he comes up with a lot of this stuff, right now, he has to run through the A.G.'s office and it takes forever, he may ask the legislature for powers to shut someone down.

Mike Sunnucks: I think an informational thing, which I guess this what this is. There are two races; the mayor's race and Pearce race. Looking at that and randomly picking stuff, that loses credibility.

Ted Simons: The city council, same groups, going to get involved in those races. The governor is going after the redistricting commission and basically sending a letter saying I've got questions. I want answers. Send them to this address and do it by this date.

Dennis Welch: It's a very accusatory letter. She sent them to all five members of the commission, say explain to me, you've been excused of dereliction of duty. And how come you haven't done this? It's extraordinary what's going on with it.

Mike Sunnucks: Violating open meetings laws and picking a mapping firm that had ties to Obama. And drawing lines that the Republicans don't like. That's their dereliction of duty. Not necessarily. What she's basically saying and Republicans, it's not doing what it's constitutionally mandated to do and that is to look at all sorts of things, not just competitive districts.

Howard Fischer: And this is what becomes the issue, that we start off with the open meetings law. And did the chairwoman call multiple members to line up the votes, and turns out three of the five members gave one firm perfect scores. What are the odds? Now you're into bid rigging which is a criminal violation and the extent that the firm has ties to Barack Obama and John Kerry and the Democrats. If in fact, all of a sudden you see a line going down speedway boulevard in Tucson to take someone out, it raises questions. I love the fact as you point out that she wants a response. Failure to respond will be held against you and if you don't respond, I'll presume you're guilty and if you have nothing to hide, you should answer. What part of due process do we not understand?

Dennis Welch: This whole process was to take the politicians and elected officials out of the whole thing, and here we are.

Ted Simons: It sounds like, judging from the letter and past conversations on the snow which initially were pooh-pooh. That she's looking at maybe going to the -- looking at going to the legislature and if you can get two thirds we can start over. And get rid of such and such.

Howard Fischer: Now it gets interesting, there's several scenarios. The members of the commission. The independent redistricting commission are chosen on court appellate appointments. The governor can name after January, and if she can drag this out to get a different nominee, maybe she'll get a different map. Then you've got frank Antonori who says, let's have a special election and blow up the commission and have the Republicans put out a map and the Democrats and put out a map and we'll put them on the ballot.

Mike Sunnucks: The commissioner was tone death for hiring that mapping firm. The other mapping officials could have parceled it out and hired a democrat and Republican firm and picked a firm that enraged them because of the Obama ties.

Howard Fischer: When the Republicans said who they wanted as an attorney, they didn't even give them that. That comes back to your tone deaf point. Even if there's a vast conspiracy to help the Democrats, don't put out that kind of ammunition. Let the republicans have their own attorney. Why not --

Ted Simons: If you're looking for independents and a mapping firm that isn't connected, do you know of any mapping firms for congressional and legislative districts that don't have a connection to anyone whatsoever.

Howard Fischer: There's a difference between some connections and a firm that helped Barack Obama.

Ted Simons: Do we know of other -

Howard Fischer: It's a very narrow field, obviously. You're talking about somebody --

Dennis Welch: Mapping firms. How many mapping firms are there. It's not like it's a huge industry out there. But my other question when I look at this thing, is there any path to make everybody happy on this one? There never is and you're going to see the same arguments with any map they put out. Communities of interest have been ignored. You'll hear all of the same arguments all over again.

Mike Sunnucks: The Republicans have all of the cards in the state. Both houses of the legislature. They run the state. And then you have a panel that's got two Democrats and a independent chair that votes with the Democrats that's running this thing and I think that has the GOP folks pulling their hair out.

Ted Simons: And we had Tom Horne was trying to investigate, trying -- again, telling them, you better answer my questions or I'm going to do X, Y and Z -- X, Y and Z, and the judge said, take your X, Y and Z and --

Howard Fischer: Take them where the sun don't shine. The ruling was on a very narrow, legal point. When the commission first formed, the legal counsel was the attorney general's office and tutored them on the open meeting law. And Horne said don't do exactly what you did, in other words, making phone calls. He said that doesn't mean I can't investigate them because these acts occurred after the A.G.'s office was investigating and what was pointed out, the ethics rules are clear. You can't change sides, from representing someone to investigating them no matter. What Horne says he can win on appeal, but said let Montgomery do it and November 30th we'll have another hearing.

Mike Sunnucks: Could have had Andrew Thomas in both of these positions and having racketeering charges.

Ted Simons: Speaking of Montgomery, he's proposing child welfare changes regarding CPS with police and enforcement. It sounds like CPS is under everyone's target sight again.

Mike Sunnucks: Sure, poster child tragic cases that pop up every once in a while and prompts calls for reform. Basically, are they a social worker type or police law enforcement organization and do we keep the kids with the family and work that out or protect them and swings back and forth and so that the latest swing is obviously Montgomery is talking about having the police -- there's a lot of common sense to that.

Ted Simons: If that's what he is saying, but does the swing go far enough?

Howard Fischer: Been covering this place for -- what? -- 30 years, you want to keep the family together to the extent you can get them the services they need and keep the family together and children, generally speaking, do better with their parents but if you're putting them in a dangerous situation because you don't have the resources, you take them out. Now we're down to the question we'll have 80,000 in foster care because if you error on taking them out. This goes back and forth every decade. Is there such a thing as far enough? Every time there's a complaint, you can take every kid out and that would be far enough.

Mike Sunnucks: It's not just here, it's other states. If you have a lot of social workers and they're not law enforcement people, they're folks talking about bringing in ex-police officers that are used to investigating cases and putting away bad guys and not focused on the social work. If you had a happy medium of that within the culture, you might be able to overcome some of these things, but the resources--

Ted Simons: The taskforce will come up with Montgomery getting a major play on that taskforce. This should be relatively quickly here, Howie. The judge rejects this referendum to put a clean elections finance reform on the ballot for next year because of -- and what -- why does the concept of one issue per ballot measure, why is that so difficult?

Howard Fischer: Because the court itself admits they're all over the board. It used to be the standard, you vote for part A, and not part B, that's separate rules. But what they said, part of a whole. This ballot measure doesn't technically repeal clean elections but puts a constitution amendment saying no public money. The judge had no problem putting that on the ballot and if you approve that, you get rid of Tucson's system of matching finances. What they had a problem with, if Tucson had leftover money, it would go to the state and he said that is --

Ted Simons: Why do you put that in there for in the first place?
Mike Sunnucks: The Republicans over-reach. You go to the restaurant, you're allowed one side with your meal and they keep ordering two sides --

Ted Simons: Can I have two? No, you can have one. But I want two.

Howard Fischer: The secret union vote, the first time, they said we're going to protect all secret ballots. Never mind, when we go to the polls, the ballots are already secret.

Ted Simons: It's no secret that Paul Babeu and Ron Gould-- they would like to go to Washington.

Dennis Welch: I guess that's the question, what we just talked about with the redistricting and all that. Which district -- looks like they're both in the same district. District 4, and both have eyes to go back to the capital. Paul Babeu is a rising star in the party, a lot of connections including John McCain who he has helped out in the past. It's thought he's got a long donor list. And Ron Gould is a strong conservative but never shown a proclivity to raise a lot of money. The most he's raised as a privately funded candidate is about $17,000 which isn't going to get you very far.

Howard Fischer: We're going to have new districts, the governor is going to fix it.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem with the districts, how many miles apart do they live? Gould is up in Kingman and the sheriff's down in -- That's probably the state of Connecticut or something and you draw the districts and there's a problem with that.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Howard Fischer: But it's the nature of the state that --

Ted Simons: When -- exactly, and everyone lives in two spots. Roughly 45 seconds to explain, the latest behavior research poll, President Obama leads Mitt Romney head to head and Rick Perry head to head and Herman Cain head to head. How it that happen?

Howard Fischer: I think part what it involves is the people -- it was the independents who were the sway, they look at the Republican field and say, oh! They're not excited about anyone. The Republicans voted for the Republicans and Democrats for the Democrats, it's the independents splitting 2-1 for Obama. It may have to do with the people polled but may have to do with the independents looking around and saying -- Herman Cain?

Dennis Welch: I'm skeptical of the poll. I don't think -- I think Perry or Romney, when it comes down to it, would be able to beat Romney head to head in the state.

Ted Simons: We'll stop it there. Thanks for being here.

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