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Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s top lawyer disbarred, facing criminal charges

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(UPDATED BELOW)

They were Republican Arizona’s golden boys, the plain-spoken, get-tough sheriff and his legal and political foil, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and attorney Andrew Thomas. According to a post at Talking Points Memo, Thomas “might have had a bright career in Arizona politics,” but instead is today facing disbarment, criminal charges and professional disgrace.

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In his six-year reign as Maricopa County’s top prosecutor, Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio went on a legal rampage against their perceived political enemies, drumming up and pursuing criminal charges that they knew were false, charges that rarely held up under scrutiny. As a result, say investigators, Thomas “undermined the public trust and inflicted great damage to the system of justice. The only way to restore that trust and to repair the damage to the system is to disbar Thomas.”

Those remarks came at the end of a two-month investigation last year that implicated Thomas as well as two aides, Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander, whose law licenses are also in jeopardy. Thomas’s attorneys have called the investigation a partisan witch hunt, even quoting the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in their final filing on behalf of Thomas in December.

“We found a witch,” they wrote, purportedly speaking as the public officials who filed charges against Thomas, “May we burn her?”

An overview of the charges outlined in the case, however, makes one wonder what the lawyers have to be lighthearted about. Reportedly, shortly after being elected to office in 2004, Thomas and Arpaio became a team, often working together against individuals and institutions who defied them.

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After both men were reelected to their positions in 2008, they escalated what had been a policy of ongoing political infighting and elevated it to a crusade, using the sheriff’s office to file spurious criminal charges against their political enemies, including the 14 public officials who made up the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

However, none of the charges stuck. Often, Arpaio and Thomas failed to provide evidence that they had promised the court. In other instances, the statutes of limitations had long expired on the alleged misdeeds.

Investigators say that Thomas and Aubuchon knew that the cases they were pursuing were bogus, but pressed ahead anyway, hoping to muddy the waters enough to permanently damage their opponents’ reputations. Investigators have labeled this practice perjury, and as such punishable by the termination of their licenses to practice law.

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As their messy campaign against other public officials descended into chaos, however, Thomas abruptly resigned from office mid-term. The prosecutor who took over for him suspended all actions and investigations against Thomas and Arpaio’s targets and submitted evidence to a state board that had already opened a criminal investigation against the two men.

A judge is expected to announce at noon Eastern today whether Thomas and his aides will be allowed to keep their licenses. The criminal investigation is currently ongoing.

UPDATE (12:22pm): According to the Phoenix New Times’ “Valley Fever” blog, the disciplinary panel at the Arizona State Supreme Court has disbarred Andrew Thomas, Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander. Some charges were dismissed, but the panel found “clear and compelling evidence” that Thomas and his aides had abused their prosecutorial powers when pursuing charges against members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as well as multiple political enemies.

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The charges, said the board, were not filed in pursuit of justice, but to embarrass and inconvenience their opponents. Thomas and Aubuchon were also found to have been uncooperative and deceitful in the process of the investigation.

(image via Gage Skidmore, Flickr Commons)


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