You know those movies where the populist politician is revealed slowly over time as an insane paranoiac taking increasingly over-the-top actions? Welcome to Maricopa County, Arizona, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Sheriff Joe is not really big on restrictions on his power and authority. When he is not busy arresting folks for breathing while Mexican (he once managed to make a crime sweep through the 99% Anglo neighborhood of Fountain Hills and arrest 75% Mexicans), he likes to haul folks off to jail whose only crime is speaking out against the Sheriff, who spends a lot of County money to maintain his public image. He arrested newspaper reporters and editors who wrote critically of him. This is a man who in his paranoia invented an assassination plot (against himself, of course) and got the city to spend $500,000 protecting him.
If his deputies want to see a defense attorney's working papers, they just take them. If he can't get a judge to release computer records, he has his posse storm into the County computer center and take it over at gunpoint. And if he doesn't like a judge's ruling, he and his sidekick County Attorney Andrew Thomas file a series of bogus charges against the judge until he recuses himself from the case.
This last and most recent story is almost impossible to summarize. The Valley Fever blog makes an attempt here and the AZ Republic, who is generally in the tank for Arpaio, is even fairly incredulous here.
The short version is that Arpaio and Thomas are mad that some of Judge Gary Donahoe's past decisions did not go their way in a probe that have been conducting into the construction of the new county court tower. There was another important hearing scheduled for today, and I suppose Arpaio and Thomas wanted the Judge out before the hearing.
last week, Thomas' office filed a "racketeering" lawsuit in federal court, which bizarrely accused the supervisors, their lawyers, and the judges of being a criminal enterprise under RICO laws.
Thomas gave away the purpose of this suit yesterday:
Because of that pending suit, Thomas said, Donahoe should have recused himself from considering Irvine's legal argument in court today.
"That's how lawless this behavior was," the County Attorney said. "Nobody is above the law."
Pot-kettle, and all that. But Thomas as much as admits his expectation was that after he filed this really, really bizarre RICO suit, the judge would recuse himself from a case Thomas wanted him off of. When the judge did not (the judge said, effectively, that the RICO suit was so goofy it hardly merited his stepping down) Thomas and Arpaio fired again.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas this afternoon struggled to explain his decision to charge the county's presiding criminal court judge, Gary Donahoe, with three felony counts -- including bribery, obstructing a criminal investigation, and hindering prosecution.
But Thomas couldn't offer any evidence to the assembled media scrum that Donahoe actually had accepted a bribe of any sort. Instead, he and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who stood next to Thomas at the lectern) offered the same vague allegations they have made for nearly a year regarding the county's planned court tower, currently under construction.
In fact, the county attorney said no evidence exists that the veteran judge personally has received anything in the way of a personal financial benefit during the flap over the $347 million construction project
Arizona has a "very broad" definition of bribery, Thomas said in response to requests for specificity.
Thomas seems to be alleging that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the county's Superior Court bench, and their "shared" outside counsel, Tom Irvine and Ed Novak of Polsinelli Shughart, are an unholy "triad" working to block his and Arpaio's legitimate investigation into the tower's construction.
But today's announcement that Donahoe now faces felony charges -- when the only evidence of "wrongdoing" on the judge's part is a series of rulings that Thomas and Arpaio vehemently disagree with -- is unprecedented even in Maricopa County.
Yesterday two county supervisors, Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, were revealed to be facing criminal indictments.
Just for extra style points
Donahoe also is the same judge who ordered detention officer Adam Stoddard to jail last week for swiping a defense attorney's notes -- drawing Sheriff Joe's ire.
A decision, by the way, the Sheriff's office is still petulantly protesting by refusing to do their jobs at the county courthouse:
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has apparently stopped delivering inmates to the courtroom where a one of its detention officers was caught in an uproar that landed him in jail.
In a statement released late today, Superior Court Judge Lisa Flores said the sheriff's office has flat-out stopped bringing inmates to her courtroom for their scheduled appearances.
None was delivered Monday or today, Flores said in the statement, causing major delays in ongoing criminal cases. That follows several days last week when the sheriff's office either delivered inmates more than an hour late or not at all, she said.
The stonewalling comes after sheriff's detention officer Adam Stoddard was thrown in jail for contempt in an incident where he was caught taking confidential documents from the file of a defense attorney in Flores' court.
Another judge, Gary Donahoe, ordered Stoddard to apologize for the incident or go to jail. Last week, Stoddard chose the latter. He surrendered to his own agency on Dec. 1 and is being kept in an undisclosed location.
I can't resist ending on this Lady MacBeth moment
But Thomas insisted that he wasn't pursuing a criminal case against Donahoe as a preemptive strike hours before the judge was set to hold a hearing that could have ended with Thomas being barred from prosecuting any county supervisor.
He later told the gaggle, "If I'm not explaining this well, I hope you'll help me."
Unfortunately, based on past experience, the Phoenix media probably will.