Notorious anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio is working with a husband-and-wife GOP lawyer team that was one of Bill Clinton’s biggest tormentors during the 90s, to go after a local Arizona official. But critics are calling the effort a politically motivated fishing expedition. And the defense lawyer on the case knows something about politicized justice: he was one of the US attorneys improperly fired by Alberto Gonzales.
Here’s the back-story. It’s got a few twists and turns. But stay with us — it’s worth it:
Just over two weeks ago, Maricopa County supervisor Don Stapley was arrested in a Phoenix parking garage by deputies of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the county’s nationally-known anti-illegal-immigration lawman. Arpaio’s office charged Stapley, a Republican, with 93 felonies, centered on the claim that he had used campaign funds to pay personal expenses.
Stapley’s lawyer, Paul Charlton, has argued from the start that the charges are bogus, because Stapley was running to be president of a private association of county officials. “He was running for a private organization, like the Kiwanis,” Charlton told TPMmuckraker. As such, Charlton said, Stapley isn’t bound by campaign-finance laws that would apply to those seeking public office.
But there’s also reason to question the motives of Arpaio, the limelight-seeking lawman known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” for his frequent publicity stunts designed to humiliate and intimidate illegal immigrants. “The real crime is the crime committed by Joe Arpaio and his inquisition of me,” Stapley told a local news station. Whether or not that’s true, there have been numerous signs that the effort wasn’t exactly a textbook example of dispassionate, apolitical law enforcement.
Stapley had antagonized Arpaio and his ally, county prosecutor Andrew Thomas, by placing auditors in Arpaio’s office to monitor spending, and by challenging Thomas’s practice of hiring outside lawyers — who were also Thomas’s political backers — to do legal work for the county.
And Arpaio and Thomas had already gone after Stapley once before. He was indicted last November for allegedly failing to disclose required information on his financial disclosure forms. But the case fell apart when it turned out that the county had never actually passed laws that required financial disclosure. Last month — just three days before Stapley was arrested on the new charges — the prosecutor on the first case filed a motion to withdraw those charges.
In addition, critics have questioned Arpaio’s decision to order a probable cause arrest of Stapley, which generated news stories declaring Stapley had been jailed, and media images of his mugshot. A probable cause arrest is an unusual tactic in a white-collar case where the target of the arrest is neither a flight risk nor in the process of committing a crime. Indeed, the probable cause statement submitted by Arpaio’s office and examined by TPMmuckraker appears to offer no argument for why the arrest was necessary. It’s hardly far-fetched to suggest, then, that Arpaio — who has famously forced illegal immigrants to wear pink underwear — may have intended to humiliate Stapley rather than merely enforce the law.
My Kingdom For A Prosecutor
But despite the high-profile nabbing, it looks like Arpaio couldn’t find a prosecutor to take the case. It should have gone to Thomas, as the county prosecutor. But because he works with Stapley for the county, making him vulnerable to conflict of interest charges, the case was passed over to Sheila Polk, the respected prosecutor for neighboring Yavapai County. Polk’s office, however, declined to take the new case.
A spokesman for Polk told TPMmuckraker that the office didn’t have the time or resources to take it on. But Charlton, Stapley’s lawyer, questions that, declaring: “I know it’s not true that she doesn’t have the resources.” Whatever the case, no prosecutor was present at Stapley’s initial court appearance September 23rd, and no formal indictment has been filed. And the judge at Stapley’s arraignment did not find probable cause to justify his arrest.
Enter Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing. On Monday, Thomas announced that he had hired the Washington-based Republican lawyers — at a cost of $295 an hour for out-of-court fees, and $475 an hour for in-court fees — as special prosecutors to investigate the allegations against Stapley, as well as two other cases that weren’t specified.
Lovebirds To The Rescue
The husband-and-wife team — neither of whom returned a request for comment from TPMmuckraker — may no longer be household names, but they boast a lengthy resume as a premier Beltway GOP power couple (pdf). Most famously, they were ubiquitous presences on cable news in the late 90s, pushing the Monica Lewinsky scandal and even claiming that they themselves were the targets of vindictive investigations by the Clinton administration. Oh, and they’re “madly in love with each other” and “both smoke cigars,” diGenova told the Washington Post for a 1998 profile.
But diGenova and Toensing’s hiring, especially at such a steep cost to taxpayers, has only intensified concerns that Arpaio and Thomas are improperly prolonging the case and waging a vendetta against a political opponent. “We now have an out-of-state prosecutor who is going to review these allegations at great expense,” said Charlton, Stapley’s lawyer. Charlton argued that Polk’s decision not to take the case should have ended the matter. Short of that, he said, the case should have been referred to another Arizona prosecutor. “There are any number who would have done a fine job,” he said. A spokesman for Thomas referred TPMmuckraker to Monday’s statement announcing the hiring of diGeneva and Toensing, which did not address the issue of why the case, if it was to be prolonged at all, wasn’t sent to another Arizona prosecutor.
Charlton would seem to be a good candidate to recognize missteps in the administration of justice. He was one of the US attorneys fired by the Bush Justice Department in 2006. A 2008 report (pdf) by the department’s inspector general found that Charlton was dismissed primarily because he “irritated department leaders” by seeking a meeting with Gonzales to urge him to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty in a particular case. The report concluded: “We are troubled that Department officials considered Charlton’s actions in the death penalty case, including requesting a meeting with the Attorney General, to be inappropriate. We do not believe his actions were insubordinate or that they justified his removal.”
Arpaio’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from TPMmuckraker.