Ted Simons: The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is sanctioned by a federal judge, and County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants to help pick his successor should Thomas, as expected, resign run for attorney general. Just some of the recent news involving county officials and here to talk about it is "Phoenix New Times" reporter Sarah Fenske.
Sarah Fenske: Good to be back.
Ted Simons: Let's start with sanctions from a federal judge on a racial profiling case.
Sarah Fenske: That’s right and they were specifically told to retain certain documents. Any time a deputy is pulling someone over and it had anything to do with immigration, they were supposed to fill out a form with information about that stop. They were told to save these forms and they did not. They were destroyed. The sheriff’s office has now admitted it. They say it was an accident the sheriff’s lawyer says the buck stops with him but it's too late, the forms are gone. There are going to be sanctions on that. And more importantly, for the litigation it means that to some extent the judge is going to assume the records would say the worst things. That’s kind of how it works if you do willful destruction.
Ted Simons: Is there a possibility the sheriff could be deposed again?
Sarah Fenske: I heard that that’s going to happen and I'm not quite clear on why that's going happen, but apparently now that we know this new information they get another go at it.
Ted Simons: Sounds like he wants every single deputy trained. I want to get to who's doing the training, but trained in terms of knowing when to ask about immigration status. What's going on here?
Sarah Fenske: How to spot an illegal, yeah. They issued a press release saying there's going to be a change in policy in immigration enforcement. Supposedly the feds have taken away his ability under this special agreement to do this immigration law stuff. He is saying, screw that, I'm going to go ahead with this and literally train every single deputy.
Ted Simons: How is he going to train them?
Sarah Fenske: He's brought in a person that's quite a controversial figure that's going to be giving, I can’t remember how long, but a very brief course to each officer.
Ted Simons: Is this a reaction now to ICE taking away that other responsibility, the Feds taking away the other responsibility? This is a straight reaction?
Sarah Fenske: I think so, absolutely. "The Wall Street Journal" says this just puts him on a collision course with the federal government. I think that's right.
Ted Simons: It’s helped determine a reasonable suspicion of illegal crime. Very interesting.
Sarah Fenske: It's an interesting choice of language. There's a lot of people thinking, based on who this person is doing the training, that this is going to lead to more stops and more people being questioned.
Ted Simons: ICE is basically saying it doesn't change much of anything in their relationship to the sheriff's office.
Sarah Fenske: It's odd, he keeps kind of escalating to some extent and they keep saying, this doesn't matter. They will take it away his thing and he says, that doesn't matter. How can both these things be true? That's what everybody's claiming.
Ted Simons: Alright we’ll move now from the sheriff’s office to the county attorney's office, sounds like the county attorny will have to testify in the case involving Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.
Sarah Fenske: That's right. He did indict her and originally the case was with the Yavapai County Attorney's Office before Thomas took it back. Yavapai county attorney who is a Republican, Thomas handpicked her to be the independent prosecutor in this case. She has made some very serious allegations saying she's not comfortable with what the sheriff's office was doing. And that’s why Thomas took this back. So Thomas is going to be forced to answer that from Mary Rose Wilcox’s attorney. The Yavapai County Attorney will also be on the stand, as well, answering questions about allegations that she’s made.
Ted Simons: This is an attempt by the defense to drop the charges or at least make sure Thomas is disqualified as prosecutor.
Sarah Fenske: Yeah, the point at this point is not to drop the charges, of course they are going for that too. But the goal is to say that Thomas can't possibly prosecute this case, he has an animus against this woman. And also that his staff advised her on filling out these same forms that the indictment now centers on.
Ted Simons: So he tried to get out of this testimony. But she did not.
Sarah Fenske: Yeah, I guess The Yavapai County Prosecutor said she's glad to testify. She got some sort of thing from the bar saying she can go ahead and speak freely. She has permission to detail the conversations that were going on behind the scenes between her and Thomas’s office. It should just be fascinating. I’m sure it’s going to be a packed court room.
Ted Simons: Is it unusual to have criminal defendants go ahead and subpoena prosecutors? To me, it seems like if you allow it here -- and Thomas' office is saying this -- if you allow this, everyone up for any crime will have prosecutors on the stand.
Sarah Fenske: It's very unusual. They want to make this case about Thomas rather than about what Supervisor Wilcox has done or not done. In some ways he’s such a big part about this case you almost can't not make this case about him because of fights with the Board of Supervisors, with Mary Rose Wilcox in particular, and with the fact this other supervisor he tried to indict. Did he advise these same people and now he's trying to prosecute them on it? He's going to be on the stand talking about his negotiations.
Ted Simons: Do we have a timetable for this?
Sarah Fenske: The hearing will be tomorrow afternoon. It’s unclear how quickly the judge will rule. I would bet we'll know within the next month whether or not he's off the case. That might be optimistic.
Ted Simons: The last of our talking points, again, the county attorney wanting to have a say in who the next county attorney will be, should Andrew Thomas decide to run for attorney general.
Sarah Fenske: This is hysterical. This is clearly something that’s being done for the media more than anybody thought this would happen. The supervisors at this point can't stand Thomas, he's indicted them, he’s sued them, the relations have never been worse. They are allowed to choose his successor under the law. He says, you can't pick your own prosecutor, but they are never, ever, ever going to let him do that. They laughed off his suggestions.
Ted Simons: Then again, he does have a point, does he not? That's a conflict of interest at almost every turn regarding these cases.
Sarah Fenske: There is. That's the whole problem that the lawyers of Mary Rose Wilcox are trying to get at. Thomas has a conflict of interest in prosecuting her, the supervisors have a huge conflict of interest in trying to get out from the prosecution. You just wish that some cooler heads had prevailed and maybe turned this case over to the U.S. Attorney back in the beginning, or kept it with Yavapai County. This thing is just a mess.
Ted Simons: How long can Thomas stay in office before he needs to resign to run?
Sarah Fenske: I know it's late May, I think it's May 26th or something like this. Word has it he's going stay in office as long as possible.
Ted Simons: Are there any names out there so far for successor?
Sarah Fenske: He has run for attorney general in the past, his name is Bill Montgomery. Don't be surprised if the supervisors try to block him. If Thomas wants him, they don't want him. There will be more litigation, that's the safe prediction on all of this.
Ted Simons: Always fascinating, always good to hear from you. Thank you so much.
Sarah Fenske: Thank you.