Until very recently, few Americans were familiar with Maricopa County, Arizona. It made the news only rarely and mostly for reporting its status as one of the fastest-growing counties in America. Since 2020, however, Maricopa County has gained notoriety for a very different reason. It’s emerged as an infamous cauldron of bitter political disputes and shady shenanigans crucial for denying the election to Donald Trump and his supporters.
In 2020, the votes of Maricopa County, where 6 out of 10 Arizonans live, were decisive for the narrow, declared victory of Joe Biden over Trump in the Grand Canyon State. Trump heatedly questioned the tally. Sensing misconduct, his supporters in the Arizona Legislature attempted to investigate the election. But Maricopa County politicians blocked these efforts.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the county’s governing commission, consists of five members, four RINOs and a Democrat. They stonewalled and fought efforts to scrutinize the election. Legislative and Arizona Attorney General’s attempts to audit the election results ultimately went nowhere. Key legislators backed down in response to threats from county supervisors and their powerful allies, including the leftist media and the Biden FBI. The firm that attempted the election probe, Cyber Ninjas, went out of business after a judge hammered it with fines.
In 2022, the same pattern returned. Kari Lake, a former Phoenix TV anchorwoman, ran for governor of Arizona. She adopted a MAGA platform and earned Trump’s endorsement. She was declared the loser, however, after Arizona narrowly rejected Trump’s slate of candidates for the state’s top four offices.
This time, it was thought MAGA world was ready. Maricopa County officials were credibly accused by Lake’s attorneys and expert witnesses of tampering with ballots and voting machines to prevent election-day voters—who were disproportionately Republican and pro-Lake—from successfully casting their votes. Serious questions were raised and evidence supplied about county officials violating state laws governing proper chain of custody for county ballots.
Again, Maricopa County Supervisors and allied county officials were defiant. They didn’t give an inch when fighting in the friendly terrain of the media and the anti-Trump courts. Despite mountains of evidence, Lake and the other two candidates lost all their lawsuits challenging the election. To add insult to injury, and presumably to deter any future MAGA litigation questioning election results, a federal judge imposed sanctions against Lake’s lawyers (including no less than Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz). For his part, a state judge granted a $33,000 costs judgment against Lake’s team.
Notably, Lake had trouble finding any lawyers willing to represent her. She complained at one point she might have to settle for “Better Call Saul” because lawyers feared threats to their livelihood. The attorneys who signed on as her counsel were not even experts in election law. Two conservative Republican county supervisors in a border county, Cochise County, had concerns about election irregularities but were left high and dry. They could not find any attorneys to help them.
How could such corruption occur “in broad daylight,” as Lake complained? And why were lawyers so hesitant to help them? The answers to the two questions, it turns out, are essentially one and the same.
The corruption in Maricopa County was no secret to informed citizens in the county and state. In fact, for years, Maricopa County has been putting to shame the old-school corruption of Cook County, Illinois. I now frequently say that Maricopa County has replaced Cook County as the most corrupt county in the country.
Years before, Maricopa County officials showed they could take out prosecutors who dared to stand up to them. More than any other reason, this precedent is why Trump’s public appeals for “brave prosecutors and judges” to come forward have been in vain, particularly in Arizona.
I know because I was there fighting this corruption more than a decade ago.
First, some background on the greasy politics of the Maricopa County Supervisors. It started with a now-distant election over illegal immigration. After serving as an assistant attorney general for Arizona, I signed on as a deputy county attorney following the election of my new boss, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, a Harvard Law graduate. In 2004, the same year in which then-citizen Trump began his hit TV show “The Apprentice,” Thomas ran for Maricopa County Attorney—district attorney for greater Phoenix—with a simple slogan and promise: “Stop Illegal Immigration.” This was the first time a local prosecutor had run on such a platform.
Overcoming the heated opposition of the political establishment, including both Republican U.S. senators (John McCain and Jon Kyl, who wouldn’t cross McCain), Thomas was elected.
The following year, Thomas went about keeping his campaign promise. After Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies arrested U.S. Army Reservist Patrick Haab for detaining illegal immigrants at gunpoint at an Interstate rest stop, Thomas declined to prosecute him. Thomas was then picketed by left-wing activists and publicly denounced by the U.S. Attorney for Arizona and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (yes, that Sheriff Arpaio). Shortly thereafter, as Arizonans increasingly demanded a secure border, Arpaio changed course and became a staunch ally of Thomas in the fight against illegal immigration. Working together, Thomas and Arpaio single-handedly drove illegal immigrants out of the state in a massive exodus. This made international news and horrified the ruling class.
Thomas helped draft a ballot measure to end the right to bail for illegal immigrants accused of serious felonies. Seventy-seven percent of Arizonans voted for it in 2006. When Arizona courts sought to shield illegal immigrants from the law (emails surfaced showing that senior Maricopa County court personnel had instructed their staff not to enforce the measure), Thomas publicly denounced these actions.
In response, retired judges went to the Arizona State Bar—part of the state judiciary which controlled Thomas’ law license—and urged them to “do something” about Thomas. A wave of State Bar investigations ensued, 13 in total. Thus began a five-year campaign of ceaseless State Bar investigations and attacks on Thomas’ law license. It’s now standard practice for leftist bar associations to try to disbar conservative attorneys who threaten the Left. But most people don’t realize this tactic began in Arizona with the corrupt efforts to stop Thomas.
The State Bar openly retaliated against one of Thomas’ expert ethics witnesses, denying him appointment to a national legal board because of the expert’s affidavit in support of Thomas. Even leftist editors at The Arizona Republic newspaper were shocked and criticized this retaliation. (Note: The Arizona Republic conveniently has removed links to these older articles unhelpful to the left, but Thomas has provided extensive citations, and they can be found on library microfiche if searched for.)
Brave and undeterred, Thomas pressed an array of reforms. He ended plea bargaining as we know it for serious violent criminals. He pursued the death penalty in a greater number of murder cases. He refused to give special plea bargains sought by well-connected defense attorneys or judges; instead, he set up a system so that every defendant was treated the same.
Thomas advocated giving voters more information about judges’ performance when they were up for retention elections. This would have meant fewer judges would be retained by an electorate otherwise largely kept in the dark about judges’ rulings on key cases and issues. Finally, Thomas and Arpaio formed an anti-corruption task force. These probes very quickly led them to uncover serious misconduct involving two of the five members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which controlled an enormous county budget and wielded other great powers in the sprawling county. Those two supervisors, Donald Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox, were indicted by county grand juries for corruption.
Stapley raised about $70,000 for a race where he had no opponent, then spent it on luxury items for himself and his family. In contrast, when Jesse Jackson Jr. did the exact same thing in Cook County, he was sentenced to prison for two and a half years. Wilcox failed to disclose material monetary associations on her financial disclosure forms, including ones that would influence her votes.
Thomas and Arpaio also attempted to investigate potential financial and other improprieties in the construction of the new Maricopa County courthouse. This was the most expensive public-works project in the history of Maricopa County government. Powerful politicians, judges, and lawyers were scrutinized, and initial evidence was uncovered.
For the establishment, this was the final straw. In short, the courts blocked the investigation of the Maricopa County project, scuttled the other corruption cases brought by Thomas and Arpaio, and turned the tables to investigate Thomas with “ethics” charges. One “courthouse insider” summed up the behind-the-scenes dirty war against Thomas when boasting anonymously and brazenly to The Arizona Republic, “The establishment will take care of Andrew Thomas.”
The courts as an institution had their own scores to settle with Thomas—and they worked closely with Maricopa County Supervisors to get rid of him. After the Arizona Supreme Court chief justice recused herself from the State Bar ethics investigations into Thomas, this left the vice chief justice, Andrew Hurwitz, as the senior justice overseeing the case. Hurwitz was the former chief of staff to liberal Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt and a well-connected advocate of liberal causes (as noted by Heritage Action, which criticized Hurwitz’s leftist politics when he was later nominated for a federal judgeship).
Left-wing State Bar lawyers were carefully selected, in violation of the State Bar’s own rules, to drive Thomas out of the legal profession. They ultimately sought his disbarment, instituting proceedings denounced by the Maricopa County Republican Committee as “baseless and politically motivated.”
They alleged Thomas had targeted his opponents with politically motivated prosecutions. This is a joke to Republicans and Trump supporters, who know that politicians such as New York’s Democrat Attorney General have run for office promising to target Trump and escape any State Bar investigations or judicial correction. Moreover, the claim against Thomas was provably false. In fact, Thomas had tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to hand off the investigations to other prosecutors. Incredibly, the Maricopa County Supervisors and their county manager blocked him from appointing independent special prosecutors to handle the matters. The county officials then claimed he had unfairly targeted them when he went forward with the cases himself!
I came into the picture because I helped Thomas fight back with a federal RICO lawsuit against these figures. The federal suit alleged these powerful insiders were wrongfully targeting his law license in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Robert Driscoll, a senior lawyer in the Bush Justice Department and commentator on the Fox News Channel, vouched for this lawsuit. The State Bar was so incensed that they then targeted my law license for allegedly filing a frivolous lawsuit (I wasn’t even named as an attorney on the lawsuit until after it was drafted and filed, that was how minimal my role was, and the lawsuit was withdrawn a couple of months later). They did so even though Thomas eventually was disbarred—as the lawsuit correctly predicted—in violation of his rights, thereby directly proving the suit’s validity.
The Maricopa County Supervisors prevented Thomas from having even a semblance of a fair trial. This was because, in the words of the left-wing Arizona Republic, they “repeatedly fired” Thomas’ lawyers. This happened no fewer than five times, in clear violation of his civil rights. Nevertheless, they got away with it—just as these powerful establishment figures got away with their Trump-related antics in the 2020 and 2022 elections.
These actions were only their latest display of shameless audacity. To facilitate the lynching of Thomas, the Maricopa County Supervisors had earlier voted to “fire” Andrew Thomas from handling county civil legal matters. They replaced him with the law firm of the president of the State Bar! Even The Arizona Republic questioned this outrageous move. Years later, the Arizona Court of Appeals struck down this move as illegal—but only after they had succeeded in ousting Thomas.
The final kicker: Some of the supervisors got rich from these machinations. Stapley, Wilcox, and other Maricopa County officials filed lawsuits against their own entity, Maricopa County, related to alleged wrongful prosecutions on which the Thomas disbarment was partially based. This included claims by three out of five Maricopa County Board of Supervisors members at the time, officials who directly or through subordinates repeatedly fired Thomas’s lawyers and disrupted his defense.
The Arizona Republic editorialized that these claims were “an insult to taxpayers.” The process set up for settling these cases, they wrote, “is rife with opportunity for self-dealing and abuse.” The county manager handling the claims “works at the pleasure of the very people who would benefit from the quiet, discreet, out-of-the-public-view mediation process he has constructed.” But they got away with it yet again. Ultimately, millions of dollars were handed out to Maricopa County officials by subordinates of the Maricopa County government without their having to prove their case to a jury.
All of this happened even though Thomas was clearly and provably innocent of wrongdoing. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the two separate grand juries of Arizona citizens who investigated these very matters. One was a federal grand jury impaneled and controlled by the Obama Justice Department working with a politicized FBI. If this lawfare tactic sounds familiar to patriots today, note that the current practice of DOJ/FBI targeting of conservative mavericks was honed in Arizona many years before the current situation.
The other grand jury was a state one, overseen by Judge William O’Neil. Yes, this was the same Judge O’Neil who later oversaw Thomas’ disbarment trial as State Bar disciplinary judge and refused to recuse himself — he ultimately wrote the disbarment order! As noted in an official Arizona Supreme Court opinion, O’Neil ridiculously claimed he “did not recall” presiding over the state grand-jury investigation of one of Arizona’s most prominent elected officials at the time. Liar.
Both grand juries, federal and state, declined to charge Thomas. In response to media reports about the investigation (he was never contacted by law enforcement), Thomas publicly volunteered to speak to the federal grand jurors but wasn’t taken up on his offer. At all times, Thomas answered every question publicly and under oath, never taking the Fifth Amendment.
Esteemed legal experts were astounded by this circus. Ronald Rotunda, a law professor at the Chapman University School of Law, was one of the nation’s leading authorities on constitutional law and legal ethics. He stated in an affidavit that the Bar proceedings were initiated unlawfully. Rotunda noted that John Phelps, the CEO of the Arizona State Bar, “without the benefit of any statute or rule, initiated and insinuated himself into an ethics investigation.” Rotunda stated,
“In my forty years of experience as a practicing lawyer, legal scholar, and law professor, concentrating in the areas of legal ethics and constitutional law, I have never witnessed, confronted, nor heard of a situation where an administrative or executive officer of a state bar organization has initiated and commenced an ethics investigation against a lawyer, without any specific legal authority authorizing his actions.” Rotunda added, “it is my opinion that [the] initiation of the Bar investigations against Mr. Thomas, et al. was without benefit of law and illegal, and consequently violated the due process rights of the investigative subjects.“
He concluded, “The State Bar of Arizona’s reckless use and false representation of its authority to initiate investigations of attorneys is a denial of the fundamental right to due process applicable to disciplinary investigations.“
Another key witness was former Rep. Bob Barr. A former U.S. Attorney in Georgia who later served in Congress, Barr was one of the House Managers of the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.
In a series of affidavits, Barr concluded the process used against Thomas “violates the State Bar’s rules and procedures and, more importantly, violates Mr. Thomas et al.’s constitutionally-protected due process and equal protection rights.” The State Bar had violated its own “rule requiring a written complaint to be lodged prior to the initiation of any ethics investigation.” Instead, “Independent Bar Counsel has represented that there are no written complaints and that he is maintaining an ‘open file’ with the State Bar of Arizona.”
“The due process violation inherent in this procedure is obvious,” Barr explained. “Without specific notice of the complaints against them and the facts that inform those complaints, it is impossible for Mr. Thomas et al. to adequately defend themselves against those charges. Moreover, without written documentation of the complaints pending against them, the investigation can morph and grow regardless of any defense offered by Mr. Thomas et al. This is utterly contrary to the notions of fairness and justice in this country and does not amount to procedural due process by any reasonable or legal concept thereof.“
Since other attorneys given the benefit of the rule are treated differently, Barr noted, “This disparate treatment is a violation of Mr. Thomas et al.’s right to equal protection of the law under both the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Arizona.” Moreover, “prosecutors…enjoy absolute immunity from civil liability for their actions in initiating prosecutions…the State Bar is employing its power improperly to interfere with the prosecutorial discretion of Mr. Thomas.”
Barr agreed with Rotunda that initiating the State Bar proceedings against Thomas was “illegal.” He added, “The blatant disregard for the rule of law” here “and failure to abide by the State Bar’s own rules is not only unusual, it is practically unheard of.”
Finally, Barr stated that the negative actions taken by the State Bar and State Bar president against one of Thomas’ expert witnesses, Ernest Calderon, who was a former State Bar president himself, “is a clear and unambiguous threat” and an “illegal threat against a witness” that was never retracted by the State Bar or Arizona Supreme Court.
“The most widely-recognized example of witness intimidation is in the criminal prosecution of members of the mafia,” Barr noted. He stressed, “a threat issued to a witness in one prosecution can have the very real effect of chilling witness testimony in many prosecutions….That general statement risks chilling witness testimony in any ethics investigation against Mr. Thomas and those to be allied with Mr. Thomas.“
“If the Arizona State Bar is willing to retaliate against an attorney who served only as a witness for Mr. Thomas,” Barr stated, “there is no reason to believe it would not retaliate against attorneys who represent Mr. Thomas or others who are being investigated based upon allegations made by the State Bar.” Additionally, “The State Bar has an outstanding and unrepudiated threat against attorneys and witnesses who may testify or act on behalf of Mr. Thomas et al. The foregoing situation is extraordinary, unprecedented, and a violation of the investigative subject’s right to due process.“
Even leftist hack editors and writers for The Arizona Republic spoke up for Thomas. Editors wrote a column when the State Bar investigations commenced entitled “Bar’s Witch Hunt.” Chronicling the Thomas case, establishment political consultant turned columnist Bob Robb didn’t mince words. The normally staid columnist wrote, in a series of columns, that the case showed the “credibility of the Supreme Court’s disciplinary process has been severely shaken“; “the gross overcharging…gives credence to Thomas’ claim that he is the victim of a witch hunt“; and the final disbarment ruling made clear Thomas “never had a chance” at fair treatment by the judicial panel. Others chimed in, including American Thinker, which published an article titled “Corruption in Maricopa County.”
By then, however, Thomas was out of office, having narrowly lost his race for Attorney General of Arizona because of these smears (I wonder about fraud in that race now, but it’s too late to investigate or prove anything). People moved on. But grassroots activists remembered him. After a panel of three legal insiders disbarred Thomas in April 2012, the Maricopa County Republican Committee and other Republican Party leaders gave him a standing ovation when he addressed them. So did other GOP and Tea Party groups in Maricopa County.
Oh, and the sanctions that were threatened and/or imposed against Kari Lake and her attorneys in 2022? That same intimidation tactic was used and perfected against Thomas, me, and another attorney swept up in the inquisition. Following our sham trial, Thomas was disbarred, and I was suspended for six months from the practice of law for exposing their wrongdoing in the RICO suit.
The Arizona State Bar then demanded that we repay the cost of their show trial—over half a million dollars. Faced with that looming threat, our lawyers being fired yet again by the county supervisors, and a justice system hostile to our rights, we were coerced into agreeing to costs of over $100,000. The State Bar did not seek to convert the ruling into a judgment against us and collect it but seemed content to let the outstanding financial threat chill our criticism of the proceedings (the threat didn’t work). Nevertheless, a decade later, I still can’t practice law until I agree to pay this outrageous sum. This is an amount of money that I, like most people, don’t have.
Thomas was no quitter. He fought back as best he could. Following his disbarment, Thomas announced his candidacy for governor of Arizona. Running on a platform of securing the border and standing up to activist judges, he collected signatures from just under 10,000 Arizona voters, almost double the number required to qualify for the ballot. More than 4,500 Arizona citizens contributed $5 to his campaign. Thomas collected many of these by campaigning door-to-door in Maricopa County. As a result, he qualified for more than $750,000 in Clean Elections funding for his campaign.
Thomas received the endorsements of the immediate past state Republican Party chairman, the immediate past Maricopa County Republican Party chairman, numerous conservative grassroots leaders, and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin. Malkin described Thomas as a “true and tested independent leader” and praised him for withstanding “nightmarish abuse at the hands of the state’s liberal judicial and legal elites.” Despite being vastly outspent by multi-millionaire establishment opponents and taking on the no-holds-barred opposition of the ruling class, Thomas ran a strong race and successfully promoted the conservative causes for which he had sacrificed his career.
Thomas’ gubernatorial campaign drew greater attention to the need for judicial and State Bar reforms. The following year, the Arizona legislature formed a joint legislative study committee to consider State Bar legislation. I assisted in part. Following the recommendations of the committee, the Arizona House of Representatives voted in 2016 to pass what the leftist media tellingly dubbed the “Andrew Thomas Revenge Bill.”
The legislation would have essentially dismantled the State Bar. In the State Senate, this legislation passed on the first vote but then failed on the second and final vote, following fierce lobbying by the State Bar and pressure from the media.
The election of President Donald Trump and his signature promise to “Build the Wall” to secure the U.S. border was a triumph of the grassroots politics popular for many years in Arizona. The dark forces and ruling-class machinations that came down on President Trump and his administration were very much reminiscent of those deployed against Thomas (and me) a decade before.
Trump has expressed concern that the injustices done to him will turn into a “cold case.” All I can say, respectfully, is: Tell me about it. Our “cold case” fundamentally changed both law and politics in Arizona — and, since 2020, the country as a whole because of Arizona’s influence on national elections. The travesty done to us happened a decade ago and is now forgotten by all except for some grassroots activists and lawyers in Arizona. For the latter, the Thomas case has become Banquo’s ghost, haunting and intimidating them, and warping our elections and society.
In other words, our problem is now your problem.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ actions following the 2020 presidential election revealed the obstacles Thomas faced in attempting to hold accountable members of that same powerful establishment institution. Their defiant and dirty tactics in the 2022 elections were a fresh reminder that they remain shameless and unfazed by any criticism Trump supporters have hurled at them.
Real election and legal reforms are possible only by overturning the rotten, destructive rulings in the once-high-profile Thomas case and providing some measure of justice to the targets of that madness. The process followed in the Thomas case was demonstrably and outrageously violative of basic and universal civil rights. The case must be tossed on those grounds alone. Otherwise, nothing will change. These rulings still baldly intimidate prosecutors and lawyers, especially in Arizona, but increasingly the rest of America.