Thomas wants fellow Ariz. prosecutors investigated for criticizing him and Arpaio

By Nick R. Martin | December 24th, 2009 | 4:09 pm | 7 Comments »

James Walsh

Sheila Polk

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas called for investigations into the chief prosecutors of two neighboring counties on Thursday because they publicly criticized him and Sheriff Joe Arpaio earlier this week.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Pinal County Attorney James Walsh sent separate letters to the Arizona Republic, criticizing what they called “abuses of power” by Thomas and his close ally, Arpaio.

Polk, a Republican who described herself as a passionate believer in limited government, accused the two men of “totalitarianism” and said they have become “a threat to the entire criminal-justice system” because of a series of a investigations they have launched against their foes.

In recent weeks, Thomas and Arpaio have announced more than a dozen criminal investigations into public officials who have criticized them in the past. The pair has said their fellow Maricopa County officials are engaging in a massive conspiracy to obstruct justice and limit their power. The investigations have resulted in criminal charges against two elected officials and a judge.

Now, Thomas wants a former state Supreme Court justice to investigate his neighboring prosecutors as part of what he calls “an orchestrated campaign to pressure law enforcement in Maricopa County to drop charges against influential criminal defendants and suspects.”

The state’s highest court brought former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor out of retirement on Wednesday to referee the ongoing mess in Maricopa County. McGregor was appointed to oversee all of the ongoing lawsuits and criminal cases between Maricopa County officials, which have become almost too numerous to count.

In his request to McGregor [PDF], Thomas said accused the other prosecutors of essentially breaking the law by criticizing him and the sheriff. He said the pair violated rules for attorneys in Arizona, as well as tainted the pool of possible jurors in the ongoing cases.

Messages left at the offices of Polk and Walsh were not immediately returned. Michael Scerbo, a spokesman for Thomas, refused multiple times to answer questions or make his boss available for an interview. “The motions speak for themselves,” Scerbo said.

When asked why the county attorney, who is normally willing to answer questions, would not speak about his latest requests, Scerbo repeated his response and added: “Editorialize all you want, but that’s the only thing I’m going to say.” He then hung up.

It has been an extraordinary week for Thomas and Arpaio, one in which criticism against them has reached never-before-seen highs, particularly from their own Republican Party.

On Monday, the day before Polk’s letter was published in the newspaper, high-profile Republican attorney Tom Ryan led a rally of more than 300 people in front of Maricopa County’s main courthouse. The group, made up mostly of attorneys, said Thomas’ recent actions have made him “a domestic enemy to our Constitution.”

Then in the letter published the next day, Polk wrote: “I am conservative and passionately believe in limited government, not the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes.

“The actions of Arpaio and Thomas are a disservice to the hundreds of dedicated men and women who work in their offices, and a threat to the entire criminal-justice system.”

On Wednesday, the Republic then published excerpts of the letter sent by Walsh.

“The justice system will decide the cases that they are filing,” Walsh wrote, “but it is the court of public opinion which will decide the future of political leaders who abuse their power and abandon their constitutional responsibilities.”

In his request for an investigation into the comments, Thomas alluded to a supposed campaign to enlist these attorneys “and possibly other third parties” to criticize him and the sheriff.

He asked McGregor to “take appropriate action” against the prosecutors and against anyone else who “unlawfully and improperly” is trying to influence the ongoing investigations.