Andrew Thomas, Lisa Aubuchon stripped of their legal licenses
Thomas, Aubuchon stripped of their legal licenses
Disciplinary panel disbars former Maricopa County attorney
by Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Michael Kiefer - Apr. 10, 2012 09:19 AM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his onetime deputy, Lisa Aubuchon, were stripped of their law licenses today as a disciplinary panel handed down the toughest sanctions possible for ethical violations in a case that attracted national interest.
The panel also suspended Rachel Alexander, another Thomas deputy, from practicing law for six months and one day for her role in filing a federal civil racketeering lawsuit against judges and county officials.
The disbarment of Thomas and Aubuchon had been widely discussed as a possibility by members of the legal community. But the length of Alexander's suspension came as a surprise because the independent Bar counsel had recommended a shorter suspension.
The three attorneys can, and likely will, appeal the sanctions. None were present.
The discipline was handed down this morning by a three-member panel appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court to hear their cases.
"It's about the victims," said John Gleason, independent Bar counsel who prosecuted the case for the bar. "We gave them the opportunity to tell their story, and they won."
Together, they faced allegations of 33 ethical violations stemming from years of political and legal battles within Maricopa County government.
Though the battles that landed the attorneys before the State Bar of Arizona reach back to at least 2006, the investigation of the three began two years ago, a month before Thomas resigned as county attorney to run unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for state attorney general.
Thomas is implicated in 30 of the charges, Aubuchon in 28, and Alexander in seven. The disciplinary panel will consider each charge separately.
Charges cover a variety of allegations, including conflict of interest for holding press conferences to denounce the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which was his client, and threatening county officials with litigation; falsely claiming a judge had filed Bar complaints against Thomas, in order to have the judge removed from a case; and seeking indictments against county officials to burden or embarrass them. In one case, the charges allege, Thomas and Aubuchon brought criminal charges against a county supervisor even though they knew that the statute of limitations had already expired on the offenses.
The most serious allegations involve filing criminal charges against a sitting Maricopa County Superior Court judge without probable cause in order to stop a court hearing. Several of the allegations of ethical misconduct revolve around a federal civil racketeering lawsuit claiming that judges and county officials conspired against Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The independent Bar counsel appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court claims that the three prosecutors were incompetent in drafting the racketeering complaint, and that they filed it for purely political reasons against people they had already charged criminally or who they thought had filed earlier Bar complaints against them.
Given the number of complaints and the difficulty Thomas and the others had in mounting their defenses during the four-month-long hearing process, O'Neil is expected to come down hard on the three prosecutors.
Any sanctions imposed would take place 30 days from today. Appeals to the Arizona Supreme Court would have to be filed within ten days, and the respondents are expected to request stays of sanctions pending appeal, which could take another six months.
The Supreme Court could then choose to hold further hearings and could reverse or uphold any part of the disciplinary judge's ruling, or send it back to the disciplinary court for hearings there.
If the ruling is upheld, Thomas and Aubuchon can apply for reinstatement of their law licenses; they would have to demonstrate "by clear and convincing evidence" that they are rehabilitated, competent, and fit to practice law, and that they have complied with all of the court's orders. Alexander, meanwhile, also can apply for reinstatement of her license, but must re-take the Bar exam and also demonstrate that she is rehabilitated.
The eight weeks of trial brought testimony from a who's who of county government officials, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his former chief deputy, David Hendershott, who worked together with Thomas and his attorneys on many of the alleged corruption cases.
Two of the four retired Superior Court judges who were targeted by Arpaio and Thomas broke down on the stand during testimony. Sheriff's deputies testified about their discomfort with the way investigations against county officials were carried out, saying they took documents home to protect themselves and were asked to swear to facts they knew nothing about.