Monday, December 14, 2009

Worst Arizona Republic Editorial Ever

I realize, that's saying a lot. But first, let me numbingly note that I'm a political opponent of Andy Thomas going back to his run for Attorney General 8 years ago. The spouse of one of my law partners ran against him for County Attorney and I and my wife were pleased to contribute to that campaign. I'm chair of Felecia Rotellini's campaign committee in her campaign for Arizona Attorney General, which is rumored to be Thomas's goal in the 2010 elections. My law firm has been retained to defend one of the judges named in his federal civil lawsuit against the county leadership and judges. But face it, whatever the background here, on this one, I'm right and he's wrong.

Having said that, let's turn back to the Republic. It's tough competition, but I think this one just won the coveted title of Worst Ever:

All, certainly, dread just how far this abuse of power will go. In point of fact, it has gone too far already.

The conflict between county government factions over dwindling budgets and the cost of a new court tower now has spiraled genuinely - and frighteningly - out of control. It no longer is possible to discern the honesty of an Andrew Thomas criminal complaint. Has he found criminal abuse? Or is he paying back his political opponents?

A higher, saner power must step in. This chaos has spread too far.
A higher, saner power? Ye gods. And what higher, saner power might exist -- in a democracy? Gov. Jan Brewer takes time out from her doomed fight for a sales tax increase to ask Andy Thomas and Joe Arpaio to behave themselves? Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl take time out of their lobbying on behalf of Arpaio to remonstrate him? Not in this particular space-time continuum. The Obama Administration Justice Department taking over the County Attorney's office? Just imagine how that would go over in Arizona.

There is no "higher power" here. Prosecutor offices are designed so that they don't take orders from political higher-ups. That's why you have to elect people who understand the prosecutor's role isn't to win victories, but rather to seek justice. And if a prosecutor, and a sheriff, overstep their roles and turn their offices into tools of vengeance rather than justice, there's no effective oversight except the voters who elected them.

If the Republic believes that Thomas is abusing his power, that it is no longer possible to trust him, that the chaos has spread too far, then the Republic better stand up to Thomas and had better back up those opposing him. That's a lot to ask; the proverbial jury is still out if lawyers in Maricopa County are as courageous as those in Pakistan. But it's the only way to "fix" an out of control prosecutor.

And it's a very close dishonorable mention to Laurie Roberts's column Saturday, which is almost as bad -- by treating both sides as beneath contempt, just part of the ongoing "clown show." It's just politics as usual, a plague on both their houses, an opinion columnist who can't be bothered to figure out who's right and who's wrong:

There is no hero in this story, no caped crusader. Everybody looks bad, including the judge who ordered one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's detention officers to stand on the steps of the courthouse and issue a public apology, and the Joe Arpaio/Andrew Thomas tag team that then brought the judge up on criminal charges.

Roberts goes through the entire story of how Thomas's criminal complaint against Chief Criminal Judge Gary Donahoe disclosed his home address, in violation of the statute under which Arpaio arrested the New Times publishers. When confronted with their own violation of the same statute, Arpaio's and Thomas's spokesmen claimed that the court clerk's office should have removed the address -- which is, plain and simple, a lie. Roberts can't be bothered to call it a lie, though. She leaves it as a he-said-she-said, then magisterially rises above the fray, calling both sides equally at fault, considering it beneath her dignity to offer an actual opinion:

The question is, who can order all these people to take off their rubber noses, put away the floppy shoes and quit wasting our money? Oh for a ringmaster – and a whip.
Oh, there's a clown here, all right. And if Laurie Roberts has any confusion over the clown's identity, she should look in the mirror.

If we treat this fight -- one which the Republic itself calls an abuse of power -- as a clown show between two factions who both deserve to lose, then Thomas and Arpaio win. There won't be any check on a prosecutor who uses his special powers for political ends.

They say a conservative is a liberal who got mugged -- and a liberal is a conservative who got indicted. Laurie Roberts may be too close to her sources to know an abuse of power when it's staring right at her clown nose and greasepaint, but at least she shouldn't enable bad ends by urging her readers to view this issue as just another political food fight, deserving of snark and nothing more.

And the Republic itself, which at least recognizes the stakes involved, should stop wishing that some fairy godmother will save us. In America, we can't ask the Queen of England to stop this fight. Only those who elected Thomas and Arpaio can do that. And if we don't, then we deserve what we get.

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