Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ethics panel breaks-up one-half of Maricopa County's unholy partnership

One thing I credit the Obama Justice Department for is taking seriously the plight of vulnerable communities like that of the Latinos of East Haven, CT who have endured a culture of discrimination and harassment by its police department. According to CBS News, a DOJ investigation is focusing on two East Haven police officers caught on video by a local Catholic priest who had seen enough of abuses going unpunished; the video appears to show two officers “amusing” themselves at the expense of at least one Latino shopper in a convenience store. These officers and two others were indicted on civil rights charges, using “their badges to assault, harass, and falsely arrests Latinos.”

Meanwhile in Arizona, Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio may finally be joining his henchman, county attorney Andrew Thomas, into an ignominious fall. While a DOJ report admonished Arpaio’s operation for racial profiling, harassment, abuse of force, false arrests and destruction of records has yet to materialize into an indictment, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake allowed a lawsuit against Arpaio, his henchman Dave Hendershott and Thomas by numerous targets on their “enemies” list to proceed. This “list” included retired judges Gary Donahoe and Barbara Mundell, county supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox, and one or two others. Arpaio and Thomas had argued immunity against the lawsuit, simply because they were “honest” law enforcement employees just doing their jobs. But Judge Wake’s ruling dismissed their arguments, arguing that a 2009 racketeering case against a fistful of Arpaio “enemies” was deemed “patently frivolous”—thus rendering their positions as “true” representatives of the law void. Wake’s report let stand charges that Arpaio, Thomas and their henchpersons engaged in “malicious prosecution,” willful defamation, and using their offices to abuse due process and other misadventures.

Thomas may have to serve as his own counsel, because he cannot practice law in the state of Arizona. Following the recommendations of a report by state bar counsel John Gleason, an ethics panel ordered Thomas disbarred for numerous ethical violations, along with his principle henchperson Lisa Aubuchon. Another functionary, Rachel Alexander, had her license suspended. Thomas was accused of 30 charges of misconduct, while Aubuchon faced 28 charges and Alexander seven. Their misconduct was apparently of Biblical proportions, because the panel quoted Proverbs 12:15 to describe the behavior Gleason uncovered:

“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.”

The panel was clearly admonishing the lack of oversight of the county attorney’s office, its own failure to oversee the sheriff department’s activities, and public indifference. “Like darkened clouds on the horizon, there were, in retrospect, certain events that gave fair warning to the then impending storm this complaint addresses.” The report noted that the Thomas and Aubuchon seemed subservient to the dictates of Arpaio—quivering in silence before his angry outbursts demanding prosecution of his “enemies.” To serve Arpaio’s dictates, Thomas and his fellow respondents “knew they had charged a person with dozens of crimes that he could not be convicted of…Respondents ignored the Constitution by intentionally hiding critical evidence” When one of Arpaio’s targets publicly criticized him and Thomas, Aubuchon attempted to cow a grand jury into voting charges against the her—the sole “witness” supporting the phony charges one of Arpaio’s henchmen.

The Court Towers building project has had its fair share of shady intrigue; County Manager David Smith is resigning over allegations of vendors’ pay-for-contracts. But Thomas’ own Court Tower investigation—apparently on the instigation of Arpaio—only served as the most egregious example of abuse of power in the panel’s ruling of disbarment. Thomas’ investigation, intent on taking down Donahoe, Stapley, Mundell and others, was a “subterfuge from the beginning.” Apparently Thomas and company hoped to invent a conflict of interest and bribery case involving the building of the Court Tower, but the case relied on a “rumor” helpfully spread by friends of the county attorney, which later turned out to be invented by Thomas, Aubuchon and Arpaio henchmen Hendershott during a secret session. And there was more: The “friends” of Thomas included contractors who were hoping to obtain millions in contracts for the Court Tower project, and they were trying stop an unfriendly rival, Tom Irvine, from obtaining a position as the board of supervisors' lawyer—which they saw unhelpful in obtaining their hoped-for largesse. The panel also pointed to repeated violations of the Fourth Amendment, as the attorney’s office authorized weekend home invasions of county employees in order to conduct “interrogations” that were intended to give the impression of a wide “conspiracy,” when there was no evidence that such existed.

The panel’s findings were scathing in its wordplay. Thomas and his department’s activities amounted to a “staccato machine gun fire of a series of unethical actions in harmony with malevolent rationalizations. This Panel strongly believes that history will characterize the melodrama inflicted on various individuals at such a staggering cost to the taxpaying public in Maricopa County as tragic, unwarranted and without excuse. Respondents Thomas and Aubuchon joined hands to inflict an economic blizzard on that public and multiple individuals which is paled only by the intentional infliction of emotional devastation their icy calculated storm left in its wake. That harm is irrefutable, yet still finds Respondents without a shred of remorse. Behind the flimsy fabric of their rationalizations raged apparent unfettered passions that were fueled by a darkness of purpose, blessed by a self-righteous self-centeredness and draped in a disguise of hypocritical indignation. They used a deadly combination of trusting in their ability to sell the vividness of their own imaginations combined with a resolute refusal to look a fact in the face. A gaping void was opened in the life of the people of Maricopa County where any citizen’s rights could be burned as part of the maintenance of this fake conspiracy.”

But Thomas was only obeying instructions from Arpaio. The panel found that Thomas had “abdicated” his responsibility to serve as a “check” to the machinations of Arpaio. The panel could do nothing to Sheriff Joe, but they still had some choice words for the county’ relationship with Arpaio: “There are those who will doubtlessly point accusing fingers at the Office of the Maricopa County Sheriff with condemning tones of an unholy collaboration. The evidence against Respondents in this case speaks for itself. They never looked for evidence, because they always knew there was none.”

In the meantime, Arpaio is running for his sixth term as sheriff, the completion of which he will be 84. Arpaio, who when first elected in 1992 claimed that he was a one-term sheriff who supported an appointed position; now calls that position “stupid” because he would have been fired years ago. He currently envisions himself seeking reelection indefinitely, even if he winds-up like the wheelchair-bound “Ironside,” although this time armed with a machine gun. Arpaio is clearly a power-mad despot, and if there is any true justice in the world, it will be Arpaio looking out from inside one of his own jail cells, wearing those pink panties.

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