Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Ex-Right Hand Man Disbarred Over Ethics Violations
In a Phoenix courtroom filled with fellow lawyers and some of his biggest critics on Tuesday, the former Arizona prosecutor who served for years as Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s right-hand man was stripped of his license to practice law.
A three-member panel of the State Bar of Arizona ruled that ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas abused his powers as a prosecutor to target his political enemies. Because of that, they ruled he would be disbarred.
One of Thomas’ top aides, Lisa Aubuchon, was also disbarred for her role in the misconduct. A second aide, Rachel Alexander, had her law license suspended for six months.
The punishments are scheduled to take effect May 10. All three are expected to appeal the ruling.
The decision was long-awaited for many who follow the ongoing Arizona drama in which Arpaio is a central figure.
Thomas spent six years at Arpaio’s side as the top prosecutor in Maricopa County, Ariz., which encompasses Phoenix and most of its sprawling suburbs.
A longtime immigration hardliner, he was first elected to the office in 2004 and won reelection in 2008. Thomas resigned his seat to run for state attorney general in 2010 amid the conservative wave, but he lost in the Republican primary and seemed to drop out of politics after that.
Politically, Thomas and Arpaio were almost inseparable during their years as the top law enforcers in Maricopa County. They supported each other on almost every issue and often found themselves locked together in heated battles with judges and other local government officials.
Those battles were ultimately what led to the ethics case against Thomas.
Investigators with the State Bar of Arizona said somewhere along the way he became obsessed with his political enemies. He turned disagreements over policy into a full-fledged attempt to see his opponents jailed and disgraced.
With Arpaio’s help, investigators said, Thomas used the powers of his office to target his opponents with criminal investigations. He had some arrested and some charged with crimes. The evidence he and Arpaio used in the process was often questionable. The charges rarely stuck.
Throughout it, Thomas and Arpaio said that they were on a mission to root out corruption in local government. When ethics investigators came calling several years ago, Thomas said he was the victim of a witch hunt by the local establishment. He said it was part of a conspiracy to maintain the status quo.
Fallout from the feud, however, didn’t end with the ethics investigation. A federal grand jury is believed to still be looking at possible criminal charges against Thomas and Arpaio on allegations that they abused their powers.