Constitutional Law

Paper: War Over $340M Court Tower Threatens Rule of Law in Ariz. County

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In an escalating yearlong war between government officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the sheriff and a local prosecutor are now accusing all members of the governing body, at least four judges, multiple administrators and two lawyers of corruption concerning the construction of a $340 million court office tower.

But, based on the evidence that has so far been made public, the situation may well be an attack on the rule of law and judicial independence rather than a legitimate corruption probe, a state newspaper says in an editorial.

The federal civil racketeering litigation being pursued by Sheriff Joseph Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas against the County Board of Supervisors, Maricopa Superior Court and two lawyers with Polsinelli Shughart is, as far as observers can see, based on virtually no clear evidence of actual wrongdoing, according to the Arizona Republic.

Meanwhile, a criminal complaint brought by Arpaio and Thomas against the county’s top criminal judge, at least largely based on Judge Gary Donahoe’s rulings on court matters he is overseeing, has been criticized by other observers.

“By filing the racketeering lawsuit and bringing criminal charges against Donahoe, Thomas and Arpaio have raised the stakes inconceivably high. Perhaps they have additional evidence of an explicit quid-pro-quo corrupt agreement that will ultimately come to light,” the Republic writes in its editorial today.

“But for the residents of Maricopa County, here’s what it comes down to: either we have a massively corrupt judiciary and county government, or we have a prosecutor and sheriff assaulting the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.”

In another dubious tactic seemingly intended to intimidate, deputies last night questioned several unidentified judicial assistants at their homes, reports the Valley Fever blog of the Phoenix New Times.

A state appeals court intervened last week to prevent the sheriff’s office from searching the home and office computers of the county’s presiding judge, and the criminal case against Donahoe has been referred to the state supreme court.

A Sunday article in the Republic provides more details about the fallout from the yearlong battle.

Additional coverage:

Arizona Republic: “Wilcox’s attorney fighting sheriff’s interview request”

Phoenix Business Journal: “Attorneys seek dismissal of charges related to court tower”

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