Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stonewalling Spurs Lawsuit: Attorney General’s Tactics Contradict His Own Prior Legal Opinion, May Intimidate Witnesses

from the County Attorney's Office -

The County Attorney’s Office today has filed a lawsuit demanding that Attorney General Terry Goddard instruct his lawyer to cease obstructionist tactics that are hindering a bribery investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s investigators are looking into claims that the Attorney General’s Office gave former State Treasurer David Peterson a favorable criminal plea deal after the Treasurer’s Office transferred $1.9 million in disputed funds to the Attorney General’s Office.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has complained of being “stonewalled” by the Attorney General’s Office and Ed Novak, a prominent criminal defense attorney hired by Goddard to represent the Attorney General’s Office. The tactics employed by Novak directly contradict the public pledge of cooperation made by the Attorney General and Goddard’s own published opinions on the same legal issue.

Novak is demanding that he be informed when a current or former employee of the Attorney General’s Office is to be interviewed by a sheriff’s investigator. It is believed he intends to sit in during these interviews, potentially chilling witnesses. These demands, if honored, might intimidate employees of the Attorney General’s Office and prevent them from candidly providing information to investigators, as well as improperly reveal investigative strategies to the subjects of investigation.

Novak’s demands on behalf of the Attorney General conflict with prevailing law and Goddard’s own published legal opinions and practices. In an article published just two years ago in Arizona Attorney, an official publication of the State Bar of Arizona, Goddard took a position diametrically opposite from the one his office’s attorney now is taking in the Petersen probe. In the 2005 article, he argued, contrary to Novak’s assertions, that “a person or entity should not be allowed to thwart the investigation…by the general retention of a lawyer.”

Now that the Attorney General’s Office is the subject of investigation, the Attorney General’s position has changed. As a result, the Attorney General is claiming greater rights for himself than what his office grants to criminal suspects under investigation by his office. In fact, the Attorney General’s Office, like virtually all other prosecutor’s offices in Arizona, does not give information of the type demanded by Novak to opposing attorneys during ongoing investigations.

After Novak repeatedly defended these tactics in letters to the County Attorney’s Office over the past two months, Sheriff Arpaio issued a press release on August 16, 2007 denouncing this stonewalling. In a subsequent article published on August 22, 2007 by the Yellow Sheet, a publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office confirmed that Goddard is in agreement with the positions taken by Novak. Only after all these efforts to avoid litigation failed was this lawsuit filed.

“Mr. Goddard should honor his own legal advice from two years ago, and his public vow to cooperate, and end these tactics,” County Attorney Andrew Thomas stated. “The Attorney General’s Office cannot lawfully hire, at taxpayer’s expense, counsel to act as the personal criminal defense lawyer for the Attorney General—particularly when that lawyer is trying to impede a criminal investigation.”

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