Maricopa County Politics

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Attorney Tom Ryan and Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney for Arizona and lawyer for Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, talk to HORIZONTE about the ongoing public campaign Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio are conducting against public corruption.

José Cárdenas: The public battle between Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio against officials at Maricopa County continues with allegations going back and forth. The legal community has expressed their discontent with what the sheriff and county attorney are doing. Joining me now with their views from the legal perspective are Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney and one of the defense attorneys for Don Stapley. Also here is attorney Tom Ryan. He organized a rally downtown where hundreds of attorneys showed up protesting Thomas and Arpaio's actions. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on our first show of 2010 from our new digs. And, Paul, you've been on our show before. Welcome back.

Paul Charlton: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: We ended the last show I referred to there, as we begun 2009, which was a discussion of the charges against your client, supervisor Stapley and just keeps coming back. Why don't you give us an overview of where we started and where we are now a year later?

Paul Charlton: In December of 2008, county attorney Andy Thomas brought in excess of 100 charges against Don Stapley. Afterward, we moved to have Andy Thomas recued because of a conflict of interest. Before that motion was heard, he transferred the case to Sheila Polk, a professional prosecutor. And she assigned the case to Mel Bowers who acted as a special deputy attorney and he handled the prosecution. Judge Fields dismissed 50 of the charges that Don Stapley was facing. Mel Bowers then took that decision on appeal and before he did so, dismissed all charges. For a period of time, Don Stapley was facing no charges because they had been dismissed both by the judge's decision and the prosecutor's decision. That was done on a Friday. That following Monday, Joe Arpaio had Don Stapley arrested on 100 charges of probable cause arrest without benefit of a grand jury or of a prosecutor reviewing those charges. No prosecutor picked up those charges and Andy Thomas then took the case back from Sheila Polk. We know from a letter she wrote to "The Arizona Republic," he took that case back because they were having disagreements with the way the office was handling that case and Andy Thomas sought to bring in special prosecutors from Washington D.C. He was blocked in that attempt and more recently brought more charges against Don Stapley and brought charges against supervisor Wilcox and also against the judge. And we have a civil complaint filed in federal district court --

José Cárdenas: Being racketeering.

Paul Charlton: Racketeering, it's a federal law that's used to go after people who are involved in organized crime. Alleging that the judges who sit in Maricopa County, a number of the lawyers who represent the Maricopa County, the current board of supervisors, are all working in concert and conspiracy to deprive the county attorney of his ability to prosecute cases.

José Cárdenas: And Paul, people are saying that that's where the county attorney and Andrew Thomas have gone too far -- I'm sorry, Paul Charlton pointed out and I'd like your thoughts on this, Tom. That you've got Sheila Polk, the professional prosecutor, in Yavapai county, writing an extraordinary letter to "The Republic," expressing her reservations and the legal community which doesn't usually take sides in these kinds of things, not as a group, is also coming out. So tell us what's going on here.

Tom Ryan: That's well put. Sheila Polk is a well respected Republican conservative prosecutor from Prescott.

José Cárdenas: Career prosecutor.

Tom Ryan: Career prosecutor, unlike Mr. Thomas who has never prosecuted a felony case in his life. Sheila rose through the ranks and is well respected in the legal community. There's been an unprecedented assault upon the judiciary here in Maricopa County. Mr. Thomas, every time he does not like a ruling, it appears now within the criminal court instead of doing what he should be doing, which is to make appeals to the court of appeals or Supreme Court, instead, is turning around and filing criminal charges against judges or civil racketeering. That's shameful. When he referred this to Sheila Polk, he did so because he claimed a conflict of interest. That was the right thing to do. But when Ms. Polk said there was not sufficient factual basis for these allegations. He still hasn't lost that conflict of interest yet is moving forward on these cases now. These are some of the reasons why the lawyers got together in Maricopa County, to come together in an unprecedented way to express our sense of outrage over Mr. Thomas' mismanagement of this office, this misconduct.

José Cárdenas: Some people would say you're trivializing the concerns of the county attorney and the sheriff by saying he's just unhappy with rulings that have been made. As I understand, the factual bases that are alleged are that there have been rulings by the judges against the county attorney.

Tom Ryan: One of the things that Andrew Thomas wants two attorneys Tom Irvine and Ed Novak removed from a particular case. That was a case assigned to Judge Donahoe. He declined. Now they're using that decision as a basis for saying ah ha he's hindering the prosecution.

José Cárdenas: And that's one of the criminal charges.

Tom Ryan: That's one the factual bases for the criminal charge which is not criminal conduct at all, a judge making a decision to quash a subpoena or remove or not remove attorneys is what judges usually do. That inherently cannot be criminal conduct.

Paul Charlton: Prosecutors have avenues to complain about judges' decisions other than charging them with crimes. You can take a case up on appeal. If you believe a judge has acted unethically, you can complain to the Arizona Supreme Court about the judge's behavior. It's extraordinary to charge a judge for a crime for disagreeing with a decision that you think should have been taken.

José Cárdenas: There's the charge, though, that the judge in some fashion is guilty of bribery. What can you say about that?

Tom Ryan: Well, I can say there's absolutely no evidence in any of the documents filed by Andrew Thomas that would indicate that there was any attempt at bribery. The allegation is vague. You have a career prosecutor like Mr. Charlton here, who knows that if you're going to come to a press conference and make a serious allegation against a city judge you should at least come and do like the game of Clue and say it was colonel mustard with the knife in the kitchen. The probable cause statement filed along with the charges is completely void of that. It simply says he engaged in bribery.

José Cárdenas: The press has talked about having some connection to the construction of a court building. Is there anything in the complaint that explains the connection between that and the allegations of bribery?

Tom Ryan: No, there's no connection -- I mean, there's references to the court building, but no statement of what the quid pro quo was. Mr. Thomas held a high-profile press conference and when asked about the bribery issue, he looked at the press and said, perhaps you can help me explain this, I'm having some difficulty there. I think the press was probably shocked to hear that after bringing these high profile serious felony charges against the sitting presiding criminal judge in Maricopa County.

José Cárdenas: Paul, you're a career prosecutor, you were -- Sheila Polk, we know is a career prosecutor. Some of the concerns that have been expressed along the line of these charges have not been handled in a way that a professional prosecutor would handle them. Can you elaborate on that?

Paul Charlton: There are any number of things that would indicate that a career prosecutor has not managed any of these cases. In most white collar investigations, you do not arrest the defendant unless the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community. And yet they attempted to arrest Mr. Stapley in his first instance. A judge denied him the opportunity. They did arrest Mr. Stapley on the second time on probable cause of arrest. He's not a flight risk or danger to the community. They conducted these white collar investigations without first going to the individuals and asking them to explain their behavior, to see if there was a reasonable explanation. Had they done so, they would have discovered what we found eventually, what Mr. Stapley had to prove through great personal expense that these charges were poorly brought. The fact that the prosecutor here, Andy Thomas, seems unable to ever tell the county sheriff no is an indication to me that there's a relationship between these two individuals that is inconsistent with the interests of justice. Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are from time to time bound to disagree and yet it seems in these incidences the county attorney has never seen a bad case brought by the county sheriff.

José Cárdenas: Well there seems to be also concern, even if the charges do have merit, the manner in which evidence is being obtained, the interviewing of the witnesses is questionable. Can you explain?

Paul Charlton: In a number of instances the sheriff has conducted interviews in an attempt to intimidate witnesses. They're interviews that are not based in fact or justified by law. For example, the sheriff has gone out to interview every one of the individuals who sit on the board of trustees, whose responsibility is to attempt to raise funds for Don Stapley's defense. The only reason to conduct those interviews is to intimidate those individuals. They conducted-they, the sheriff's office-conducted interviews of Mesa elected officials raising specious questions, specious allegations about Don Stapley's behavior, none of which has ever been proven. Again, to intimidate them. To intimidate those individuals from supporting Don Stapley. They've conducted interviews of low-level county officials, in the sense they don't have decision making authority, in an attempt to intimidate them as well as. They are interviews conducted solely to intimidate.

José Cárdenas: We know, Tom, that after Sheila Polk wrote her letter, the deputy sheriff asked the FBI to investigate her. Are there other occasions of what you consider to be intimidation arising out of these?

Tom Ryan: Absolutely. And that's a good example the one of Sheila Polk turning back the cases and now that becomes hindering prosecution as well. She didn't comment on the facts of that case. She simply turned it back and said what you're doing is wrong. The other occasions of intimidation would be the fact that Sheriff Joe went out and interviewed all the judicial assistants of many of the judges sitting in Maricopa County superior court. There was no reasonable expectation that they would get any meaningful information that they would have about the court that was building. It was to send a message to the judges, we're digging, we're looking. The same is true with Colin Campbell. Colin Campbell merely held a press conference

José Cárdenas: The attorney for Mary Rose Wilcox.

Tom Ryan: Exactly. They had a high-profile press conference saying what the charges were against Mary Rose. Mary Rose hired a very well respected former sitting judge as her defense attorney. He had a press conference and within a few hours after that, his office has a letter delivered to him from the sheriff's office telling him he'll appear in front of the sheriff's office to submit for an interview in 26 hours. That's clearly intended to be intimidation.

José Cárdenas: When you were interviewing lawyers to participate in this rally, did you have any difficulties because of concerns about intimidation?

Tom Ryan: Absolutely. There's a real fear within the legal community of Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas and the campaign they're waging here. There are a lot of quality men and women who looked at it and said, I don't want to risk my family in doing this, I don't want to risk my career, I don't want to put my firm in jeopardy. I couldn't get someone to come and sing "America the beautiful" because they didn't want to be photographed as we were being photographed that day when we did the rally.

Paul Charlton: That may underscore what I think has been a misconception in the public that what's going on here is essentially a disagreement between two governmental entities much as if the governor was disagreeing with the legislature. When in fact, it's an unequal fight between one branch of government, the county board of supervisors who hold the purse strings. And another branch, the law enforcement side, Andy Thomas and Joe Arpaio who have the ability to take a person's liberty away. It's an unequal disagreement. It's one in which the county attorney and the sheriff has the ability to destroy someone's reputation, and in that sense, it's not appropriate to consider this as a mere disagreement. It's a group of individuals, the county attorney and sheriff, who are abusing the authority that we, the public, have given them.

José Cárdenas: You point out the disagreement is between -- its genesis is between the supervisor, who holds the purse strings and two other county elected officials. It almost makes no sense and is harmful to the county attorney and sheriff to go after the judges.

Paul Charlton: If you're old enough to remember Watergate, I think you'll see some Nixonian reflections in what is happening here. These are individuals who have acted in an extraordinarily arrogant way, who see conspiracy where conspiracies don't exist and who are willing to take a step beyond what is authorized under the law and by our constitution. And in that way, I think the charging of judge Donahoe will be, at the end of the day, Andy Thomas and Joe Arpaio's Watergate. It is the event, I think that has finally awoken much of our community to, and the legal community, to the reality that these are individuals who can no longer be trusted with the faith that we are supposed to give the authority that law enforcement has.

José Cárdenas: Tom, your brother is a sitting judge and has clashed with him before. Can you elaborate on that and what consequences that has had.

Tom Ryan: Tim is the associate presiding judge of the criminal bench here in the superior court. Related to the prop 100 issue. If you recall, Arizona passed prop 100. Giving the judges an additional tool to consider when determining bail. In other words, if a person had committed a serious felony and been without proper authority, if they were here illegally, the judge could consider that in determining whether to grant bail or not. The way prop 100 was drafted--

José Cárdenas: We're not going to have time to get into the details, but the sheriff was unhappy with the way your brother handled that.

Tom Ryan: He was requiring proof and evidence as judges do. And they came in and accused him of being a danger to the public health and safety of our community. As a result of the very high profile way in which that happened death threats were made against my brother. There was no investigation into that. No protection offered. A sitting judge was left defenseless after our county attorney and sheriff came in with these high-profile and specious allegations against him.

José Cárdenas: I'm sorry, we're out of time, but thank you for joining us on the first show of 2010 for "Horizonte."

Paul Charlton: Thank you.

Tom Ryan: Attorney;Paul Charlton:Former U.S. Attorney for Arizona;

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