An Arizona ethics panel has disbarred Maricopa County's former top prosecutor for failed corruption investigations he and America's self-proclaimed "toughest" sheriff conducted, targeting officials who crossed them.
The panel concluded former county attorney Andrew Thomas and his former deputy, Lisa Aubuchon, broke professional rules of conduct for lawyers in bringing unfounded criminal charges against two county officials and a judge in December 2009.
The panel found "clear and convincing" evidence of violations in 30 of the 33 claims the bar's independent investigator brought against Thomas and Aubuchon.
The claims included accusations that they filed charges against a judge without probable, knowing no probable cause existed; that they engaged in dishonesty, conflict of interest, made false statements in court and filed a frivolous lawsuit; and that they violated criminal law.
"Today, corruption has won and justice has lost," Thomas said after the hearing.
"I brought corruption cases in good faith involving powerful people, and the political and legal establishment blatantly covered up and retaliated by targeting my law license," he said. "Arizona has some of the worst corruption in America, according to a recent national survey. The political witch hunt that's just ended makes things worse by sending a chilling message to prosecutors: Those who take on the powerful will lose their livelihood."
Rachel Alexander, a deputy county attorney, was suspended for six months and one day, which requires her to apply for reinstatement of her license and to show rehabilitation and a fitness to practice law.
Should any of the parties want to appeal, they will have 10 days to file a "notice of appeal" with the clerk of the office of the presiding disciplinary judge, according to Jennifer Liewer, chief communication officer for the courts.
The attorneys will brief the issues over several months, and once complete, the case will then be transferred to the Arizona Supreme Court for a decision by the justices, Liewer said.
Lawyers pressing the case against Thomas said he and Arpaio investigated officials they were in political and legal disputes with.
Thomas and Arpaio have said they were working to fight corruption.
Arpaio does not face any punishments in the disciplinary case, but investigations by his anti-public corruption squad took center stage at hearings in the case.
Arpaio, Stapley react to rulings
In a statement, Arpaio said, "Today's decision no doubt is a disappointment to Andrew Thomas, his family and his colleagues. He was a hard working professional who served the people of this county for many years.
"As there are several lawsuits involving some of the same parties and issues involved in today's decision, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further."
Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley reacted in this statement:
"I listened to Judge O'Neil's public statement from the bench this morning. I was flooded with feelings. The strongest among them came when Judge O'Neil found, '... by clear and convincing evidence, that Mr. Thomas and Ms. Aubuchon acted with no substantial purpose other than to embarrass and burden Don Stapley.'
"Three years ago, I was indicted for all the wrong reasons. The burden imposed on me, on my sweet wife Kathy and on our children is almost impossible to describe. I listened with mixed feelings when O'Neil said, 'Andrew Thomas is hereby disbarred for his conduct.'
"Part of our burden is lifted with the disbarment order. Sadly, the burden will never be fully assuaged.
"I have had personally confirmed that 'a prosecutor's power is a dangerous power.' The new County Court Tower has a significant phrase engraved on its face. It says, 'The First Order of Society is Justice.' The court today has served justice."
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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