Updated at 4:24 p.m.
In a 247-page opinion (PDF) published earlier this week, independent investigators ordered the disbarment of Andrew Thomas, a former county attorney for Maricopa County, Ariz. The opinion detailed the role several prominent Washington law firms and attorneys played in the events surrounding his disbarment.
Thomas served as the Maricopa County Attorney, an elected position, from 2004 to 2010. In March 2010, the Arizona Supreme Court appointed independent investigators to probe allegations of misconduct by Thomas and several other former county attorneys. A hearing panel heard the case in fall 2011.
The April 10 opinion found numerous violations of the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct. Much of the opinion focused on the bad blood between Thomas and other Maricopa County officials, which, according to the hearing panel's findings, led Thomas to wrongfully pursue personal vendettas against them in court.
The hearing panel ordered that Thomas be disbarred. Thomas, according to the opinion, denied wrongdoing, saying he was lawfully pursuing allegations of corruption among local officials.
The opinion highlighted several contacts Thomas had with firms in Washington. In order to avoid conflicts of interest, state law allows the county attorney’s office and other local officials to hire outside legal counsel to assist with certain intra-governmental issues, according to the opinion.
In one instance, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had opposed Thomas’ request to appoint Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing of Washington’s diGenova & Toensing as special deputy county attorneys to assist with an investigation into county officials.
The board filed a motion with an Arizona judge to stop diGenova and Toensing from appearing in any official capacity, arguing that they had not been approved by the board as required by state law. Thomas, according to the opinion, authorized the filing of a criminal complaint against the judge on the same day as the motion hearing, accusing him of obstruction and bribery.
Thomas and other county attorneys under investigation denied that the complaint was filed to stop the hearing and also argued that they had probable cause to charge the judge. The hearing panel disagreed, finding that the complaint was filed to disrupt the hearing related to diGenova and Toensing’s appointment and also in retaliation against the judge for rulings in other disputes involving county officials.
Toensing, in a phone interview today, said that she and diGenova did “minimal work” for Thomas, but stopped when county officials did not approve their appointments. She declined to discuss the substance of the work, citing attorney-client privilege. Before going into private practice, Toensing and diGenova both worked in Congress and for the U.S. Department of Justice; diGenova is the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
“We were there for a minimal amount of time and when we were not authorized by the Board of Supervisors, we went on to other matters,” she said. Toensing declined to comment on the opinion and Thomas’ disbarment, saying she hadn’t followed the investigation and was unfamiliar with the details.
In another instance, the opinion noted that Thomas hired attorneys at Jones Day’s Washington office to assist with litigation he was preparing against a local judge and court officials over drunk driving treatment programs set up for Native American and Spanish-speaking individuals. One unnamed Jones Day attorney advised Thomas that he had no standing to sue, advice that Thomas ignored, according to the opinion.
Thomas wasn’t found in violation of rules of professional conduct for his handling of that case, but the hearing panel noted that the case set the tone for future contentious interactions with judges and court officials. The lawsuit over the treatment programs was later dismissed for lack of standing – as the Jones Day attorney had predicted – and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld that ruling, according to the opinion.
A Jones Day spokesman did not return a request for comment today.
The disbarment order is scheduled to go into effect May 10. In a phone interview this afternoon, Thomas’ attorney, Donald Wilson Jr. of Broening Oberg Woods & Wilson in Phoenix, said his client hadn’t decided whether he would appeal the ruling.
“I don’t think that the independent bar counsel established with clear and convincing evidence a violation on a number of those counts,” Wilson said. On the disbarment order, he added, “if the purpose of lawyer discipline is to protect the public, and since Mr. Thomas is no longer in office and is not the county attorney, I’m uncertain how the public is at risk if he continues to practice law.”
A man who answered a phone number listed for Thomas with the State Bar of Arizona refused to comment.