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March 4, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Maricopa County Attorney

  |   Video
  • An interview with County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Topics include prosecuting members of the County Board of Supervisors.
  • Andrew Thoms - Maricopa County Attorney
Category: Government

View Transcript
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.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.

Andrew Thomas: Thank you, Ted. Appreciate it.

Renewable Energy Transmission

  |   Video
  • Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman Kris Mayes talks about Arizona’s efforts to get more renewable energy into the power grid.
  • Kris Mayes - Arizona Corporation Commission Chairman
Category: Sustainability   |   Keywords: green,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A bill was pulled recently that would have taken the authority for setting renewable energy standards from the Arizona Corporation Commission and given that authority to the legislature. But a lawsuit to remove the commission's power to set energy mandates is still pending. Here to talk about those attempts and efforts to get renewable energy production tied to the electrical grid is Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes. Good to see you again.

Kris Mayes: Great to be here.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the bill in a second but let's start with the transmission idea. They're all talking solar and renewable. But it's got to get from A to B, doesn't it?

Kris Mayes: Exactly. It doesn't make sense to build a lot of renewable energy in remote areas of Arizona if you can't get it to where it's going to be used. Phoenix and Flagstaff and Prescott, and so what the commission grapples with is a chicken and egg problem. Do you build the wind plants first or do you build the transmissions first, how do you go about doing that-- it's a challenge for every state dealing with this.

Ted Simons: Who controls routes and where does the fed want to come in?

Kris Mayes: The fed, unfortunately, wants to come in a big way and the state of Arizona has taken a position we don't think it's necessary. It should remain with the Arizona corporation commission and a model in the country for siting big transmission lines. Because it's very quick, but also very fair to consumers and people would want to be involved in the process. But the answer to your question, right now, this is handled by the corporation commission and one of the things we've zeroed in on the last couple of years is encouraging our utilities to start planning for renewable energy transmission lines. That are very much focused on getting all of that big wind and solar that we have out there to cities and maybe even exporting it to some of our surrounding states and growing a solar energy economy based on this.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, I know you have maps here. Starting with the interconnection request and lots of arrows, what are we looking at here?

Kris Mayes: Basically what you're looking at right now is a map of all of the places where a developer of a solar project or the developer of a -- a wind project has requested to basically get on to a utilities powerline. It's kind of an onramp and they're waiting there. Imagine it's a bunch of cars stacked on an onramp to a freeway. And you look at how many proposed solar projects there are out there. It's huge. It's enormous. A lot of it is in far western Arizona, but also some in northern Arizona where our wind pockets are. And the two things that are stopping the development of these renewable energy program projects are available transmission capacity and financing.

Ted Simons: speaking of transmission lines, we have another map here which probably is a little easier to make sense of. Again, what are we looking at as far as the dots are concerned?

Kris Mayes: They represent the lines that would be needed -- would need to be built if we were going to exploit all of the wind and solar we have in Arizona. For instance, we actually told our utilities go out and draw a map of where the solar and wind pockets are in Arizona and tell us all the transmission lines that would have to be built. All of that is not going to end up being built.

Ted Simons: Right, but that has to be built. It's not there right now.

Kris Mayes: It's not and it's creating a new transmission line or upgrading them.

Ted Simons: We have renewable energy transmission lines, again, what are we looking at as far as the green and blue lines?

Kris Mayes: The lines are the lines that the utilities actually chose. We told the utilities two years ago, we want you to go out and identify your top three most necessary renewable transmission lines. In other words, what do you think Arizona needs to build in order to get this stuff to load. And you see the red line, one of the most interesting lines is the red line that goes from the Palo Verde to Yuma and that line has the potential. It goes through what I call America's solar heartland. And you've got a lot of interconnect requests from developers that want to get on the power line.

Ted Simons: Our last visual gives an overview of what looks to be solar and wind and the idea that they're not necessarily close by and you've got to get from A to B.

Kris Mayes: Absolutely, this map shows the solar and wind zones drawn by our utilities and basically you have about six zones and then seven conceptual power lines to get that renewable energy to load. The one that I would probably focus on is that -- the large circle there. That's America's solar heartland. The solar Mecca of the country and it's says 4300-megawatts. It's more like 12-thousand megawatts. That's a lot of solar that could basically power a couple of state’s worth of people.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it needs to get done and yet we had a bill, it was pulled and may show up again and there's a court case regarding the corporation commission's authority in mandating renewable energy policy. Only a couple of minutes left here. For those who say it's not your responsibility, the legislature should be doing this kind of thing, how do you respond?

Kris Mayes: I guess this way. The constitution says it is and we won the first round of that case against the Goldwater Institute. And we believe we'll continue to win as the case moves through the system. But at bottom, what I would say is the commission has set up a very popular renewable energy standard. It's driving all of the solar development we're just starting to see and my response is, we were disappointed to see that legislation and glad that the sponsor withdrew it and we hope it doesn't come back again. But, you know, the bottom line is why should we let politics get in the way of business and growing jobs in the state of Arizona? Ideology, no one's ideology should ever stop us from trying to diversify our energy mix with renewable energy and trying to make Arizona's economy a solar energy economy. We have more sun than anyone else, available land, great regulations; we have two of the top solar manufacturers in the country now in the state of Arizona. (Sun tech and first solar.) It's like having Google and eBay located in Arizona. We could have the valley of the sun in more than one way.

Ted Simons: We'll stop you there. Good to see you again.

Kris Mayes: Good to see you.