Radley Balko has a great article on Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the wingman for Sheriff Joe Arpaio in any number of abuses of power. I have tried to write about Thomas before, but some of his exploits are so bizarre and complex that they make simple description difficult, but Balko is clearly a better journalist than I and does a good job summarizing some of his most egregious actions.
The common denominator for both Thomas and Arpaio tends to be their near vendetta responses to anyone who either criticizes them or tries to limit their power (ie by denying a search warrant or dismissing one of their cases).
The most recent mess in Maricopa pits Thomas and Apraio against...well, just about everyone else. The two have been squabbling with members of the county board of supervisors for years over the construction of a $341 million county courthouse tower, which both feel is a waste of money. They might have a point. But Arpaio and Thomas are using criminal law as a cudgel in the dispute.
Last month, Thomas indicted two county supervisors on some petty financial disclosure violations. When Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe issued a ruling pertaining to the court tower investigation that Arpaio and Thomas didn't like, Thomas then indicted Donahoe for bribery, on the absurd premise that as a judge who works in the courthouse, Donahoe (who is retiring soon) would have benefited from the new tower. That indictment came shortly after Donahoe held one of Arpaio's deputies in contempt after a highly-publicized incident in which the deputy was caught on video stealing documents from the file of a defense attorney in open court.
Using criminal charges"”or the threat of them"”to silence political opponents has become something of a habit for Thomas. He has indicted more than a dozen public officials who have criticized him or Arpaio. He has launched or threatened criminal investigations into dozens of others, including politicians, columnists, and other media figures who have dared to criticize him or the sheriff. When Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon asked for a federal investigation of Arpaio's immigration enforcement tactics, Arpaio and Thomas investigated him too, attempting to snoop on Gordon's email, appointment book, and phone records. Thomas even recently threatened to criminally investigate a defense attorney for issuing public statements in support of his client.
These guys are from the bad, statist end of the Republican pond. Interestingly, Thomas and Arpaio have alienated most of the Republican leadership in Arizona, and rely on their continued popularity with national conservative media and the local populace. The latter is hard to describe to outsiders. Its often hard for me to understand. My best guess is that people ignore Thomas and Arpaio's worst behavior as aimed at people who somehow "don't count," particularly immigrants from Mexico. Balko quotes Clint Bollack of the Goldwater Institute:
Bolick says their perseverance is also due to the polarizing effects of the immigration debate. Immigration "is extremely divisive," he says. "In the eyes of a lot of people, because they're cracking down on illegal immigrants, Thomas and Arpaio can do no wrong. So there's justification for whatever they do, and any criticism of them on any issue is a betrayal of the cause. It's really unfortunate that it's causing a lot of good people to turn a blind eye to ineffective law enforcement and abuses of power."
I don't want to violate Godwin's law here, but this quote springs to mind about the reactions to Thomas and Arpaio (from a member of the German protestant clergy in the 1930s)
First, the Nazis went after the Jews, but I wasn't a Jew, so I didn't react. Then they went after the Catholics, but I wasn't a Catholic, so I didn't object. Then they went after the worker, but I wasn't a worker, so I didn't stand up. Then they went after the Protestant clergy and by then it was too late for anybody to stand up.