The Arizona Supreme Court’s three-person disciplinary panel has ruled that there is evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County and three of his associates took part in a federal crime in 2009.
The ruling was a result of an investigation into the conduct of former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and his aide Lisa Aubuchon. The case was brought before the State Bar of Arizona almost two years ago and resulted in Aubuchon’s and Thomas’ disbarment last week. At issue was criminal investigations conducted against 14 of Arpaio’s and Thomas’ political opponents in local government. The investigation against Thomas and Aubuchon focused on their ethics, but the investigation of Arpaio focuses on the criminality of using the authority of the Sheriff’s Office to harass people for political reasons.
The U. S. Department of Justice has been investigating Sheriff Arpaio for months because of complaints about the Sheriff’s Office’s conduct with the Hispanic community in Phoenix.
The disciplinary panel took particular interest in a December 8, 2009, meeting between Thomas, Aubuchon, Arpaio and Chief Deputy David Hendershott. The panel’s ruling stated:
“The evidence clearly and convincingly suggests that Mr. Thomas and Ms. Aubuchon, together with Chief Deputy Hendershott and Sheriff Arpaio, met on December 9, 2008, (sic) with the intention of stopping Judge Donahoe from issuing a ruling at a hearing scheduled the next day by filing criminal charges against him. That evidence is detailed in full throughout this opinion. Perhaps most telling, however, is the testimony of Sergeant Brandon Luth, who recounted Hendershott’s and Aubuchon’s reactions upon learning that the hearing had been vacated after the direct complaint against Judge Donahoe had been filed. Sgt. Luth testified that Aubuchon “looked pleased” when she mentioned to Sgt. Luth that the hearing had been cancelled. In addition, Sgt. Luth testified that when he handed the direct complaint to Mr. Hendershott and informed him that the hearing had been vacated, Mr. Hendershott uttered the word “checkmate.” This, together with all the evidence, clearly and convincingly suggests that Mr. Thomas and Ms. Aubuchon conspired to muzzle Judge Donahoe.
Were this a criminal case, we are confident that the evidence would establish this conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The panel noted that the meeting constituted a violation of federal law, which “makes it a crime to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any person in the free exercise or enjoyment of a right or privilege secured to him by the U.S. Constitution.”
The target of the Thomas-Arpaio criminal investigations were all five members of the county Board of Supervisors, four judges, the county’s top two appointed officials, a county attorney and two private attorneys. All the charges that Arpaio dug up were thrown out, either due to lack of hard evidence or rulings that the alleged crimes had taken place so far in the past that they had run out the statute of limitations. None of them were serious crimes.
Thomas and Aubuchon are appealing their disbarment. Where this ruling will fit into the Justice Department’s investigation of Arpaio. To this point, the Justice Department had agreed to substantial reforms in the Sheriff’s Office and no criminal charges. That may change now.
Arpaio is running for re-election.