Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

January 5, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

County Problems

  • The Tribune newspaper’s Mark Flatten reports on the dispute between the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and County Attorney Andrew Thomas over Thomas’ representation of the supervisors.
  • Mark Flatten - Tribune newspaper reporter

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
If you'd like to see the interview again on the web o find out about upcoming shows, here’s how. When you’re finished watching tonight’s Horizon, don’t forget to check our web site for many extras to get to the web site, go azpbs.org. Once you're on our home page, click on the word "Horizon" under "the public affairs section" that'll take out to "Horizon" home page. You can access many features there to help you become better informed. The first feature you may notice is video of the previous night's show. Click on the "play" button and you'll see and hear the latest segments from the program. If you'd like to view previous segments, click on "archives" above the video box. Once you select a show, you'll have access to a summary of topics, a guest list, a transcript and video. Back on "Horizon's" home page, you can see what is coming up on "Horizon." If you'd like to be alerted about topics, you can sign up for an RSS feed. Maybe you'd like an audio podcast of a "Horizon" program. That's also available on our home page. You can always check out the latest Cronkite eight poll or order a DVD of the show "Horizon" also educates viewers beyond the scope of the program. Our web site links to you hundreds of useful and informative sites gathered over the years by "Horizon" producers. "Horizon" is especially known for its political coverage. We provide links for you to contact lawmakers. "Horizon’s" home page is full service web site for those that want to keep up on what is happening in Arizona. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is locked in a struggle over Andrew Thomas over whether Thomas has exclusive rights to represent the supervisors. Supervisors hired an outside attorney after Thomas charged one of the supervisors with 118 criminal counts. The sups want that outside attorney to check and see if Thomas has a conflict of interest in filing the charges. Thomas says it's illegal for the supervisors to seek counsel outside of his office. Here to tell us more about this is Mark Flatten, who’s been covering the story for the East Valley Tribune. And quite a story this has turned out to be. Where do we stand right now with this?

Mark Flatten:
Where do we start?

Ted Simons:
No kidding.

Mark Flatten:
We've got -- on the one hand, you’ve got Thomas both criminally charging Don Stapley and now having gone court to challenge the board of supervisor’s decision, essentially strips him of the ability to represent the county in civil cases. What this comes down to is the county -- both the county and oddly enough Stapley's defense attorney are making the argument that Andy Thomas is the county prosecutor and can't serve two roles. In other words, he can't be the legal adviser to Don Stapley and at the same time be bringing criminal charges that that's against rules of ethics and creates an untenable situation for Stapley that can't go to his prosecutor and ask for legal advice. The issue here is whether Don Stapley, the supervisor is the same person as Don Stapley, the defendant. If you go back 20 years to the Evan Mecham case, when the attorney general Bob Corbin was doing an investigation, there was a ruling from a state supreme court that Evan Mecham isn't the same person as the governor. The attorney general represents the office of the governor not you as an individual and the same principle, Thomas argues, applies here. We're prosecuting Don Stapley the individual we provide legal advice to Don Stapley, a member of the board of supervisors. And that really I think is what this whole issue, whether it's the argument in court or the argument with the board of supervisors, that's what it comes down to.

Ted Simons:
Would this not be a perfect opportunity for the county prosecutor seeing so much trouble here, so much hassle to basically farm this out somewhere else? Can anyone take over this prosecution?

Mark Flatten:
Legally yes. Practically no. For the last year plus, both Thomas and Arpaio have been conducting an investigation of Attorney General Terry Goddard. Last year, Goddard said, "Look, to avoid any conflict, I won't take any cases that come from the sheriff's office." Of course this one was investigated by the sheriff's office that takes the attorney general's office out of the equation. So then you get the question of who else could prosecute this major financial, complex case? Most counties don't have the resources to prosecute a case like this -- so they go to the attorney general. So that leaves no one realistically but Pima County. And I don’t know why Pima County is going to want to jump into this thing. Thomas makes the argument, “Now look, I have a statutory duty. I don't have to farm it out it’s set in statute I prosecute crimes in Maricopa County, and what Stapley’s arguing would make him immune from prosecution. That's Thomas’s argument. Aside from a motion filed by the criminal defense attorneys, no one really seems to be questioning or seriously questioning whether Thomas could prosecute Stapley. The question becomes, ok, what's the fallout then the civil side? Can he still represent the board of supervisors? Can he still represent the county in civil cases?

Ted Simons:
And the board of supervisors seems relatively united on this, do they not?

Mark Flatten:
They seem remarkably united. They voted unanimously including Stapley, to strip Thomas of the ability to represent the county in civil cases. Now Thomas is challenging that. And we would have loved to chat with them about it but they all just dashed out of the meeting without explaining their vote.

Ted Simons:
The twin presence of Joe Arpaio and Rick Romley, how does that impact all of this?

Mark Flatten:
Well, there's certainly no love lost between these guys. Romley was hired by the board to essentially be the foil. Their tough guys they wheel out to take on Thomas and Arpaio. Aside from sort of the public perception and the media coverage, I don't know that that really affects the dynamics too much other than the fact that Rick Romley is the former county attorney. He's making the argument that the board is completely within its power. I guess the question would be if he was still county attorney work he be making that same argument? I don't know whether or not he would.

Ted Simons:
As far as taking sides, this is getting quite heated. I would imagine camps are forming on both sides or are all camps saying no part of this right now?

Mark Flatten:
From I seen people are just taking a hands-off approach. On the one hand I don’t know that Don Stapley has the big sort of political base that for instance that Fife Symington had or even going back to Evan Mecham, I don't know that Stapley has the ideological base that would rally around him. The board of supervisors did take essentially sides with him on the ability to represent the county on taking that away from Thomas. So I don't know if that was necessarily a stand of "we're behind you, Don, 100%," as much as a power play involving the board.

Ted Simons:
And real quickly, the same side for Thomas. Are there folks gathering behind him on this or again are they kind of keeping their distance?

Mark Flatten:
It's largely Thomas and Arpaio. Again, the political world really hasn't weighed in on this. I think they don't want to jump into the fight. They see no reason to jump into it.

Ted Simons:
So what's next?

Mark Flatten:
What's next is probably going to be a series of court arguments back-and-forth. Eventually, we'll resolve this issue of can Thomas effectively act as a prosecutor at the same time he provides legal advice to the board of supervisors? I expect that'll be resolved fairly quickly. We also have an issue on the table as to whether judge Kenneth Fields is the appropriate person to be handling this case. Thomas is trying to have him removed from the case arguing he's got a bias against the county attorney's office. So it's kind of a mess but eventually it'll get cleaned up.

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