Arizona Republic: Andrew Thomas Backs Judicial-Selection Ballot Measure

By Mary K. Reinhart, The Arizona Republic

Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who can no longer practice law, announced his support Thursday for a ballot measure to change Arizona's judicial selection process.

Thomas, disbarred in April, said his backing of Proposition 115 is just the beginning of his fight to reform government.

At a news conference on the state Senate lawn, Thomas announced the formation of a campaign committee, Citizens for Clean Courts, to support the proposed constitutional amendment. Among other things, the measure would give the governor a larger role in selecting state and county judges.

Joining him were family members of elderly Arizonans whose estates have been depleted by probate and fiduciary fees under Maricopa County Probate Court.

Scottsdale resident Patti Gomes said court-appointed lawyers and fiduciaries drained her 90-year-old mother's $1.4 million estate. Gomes and others said their families have been victimized by judges, attorneys and administrators in the probate system.

Thomas said he's not a victim, though he has repeatedly claimed the Arizona judiciary conspired to end his career.

"That is because we got too close to the truth and the judiciary took us out," Thomas said of himself and two former prosecutors.

The Legislature last year placed the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. It was a compromise between judges, the Arizona State Bar, the Governor's Office and those who supported eliminating merit selection in favor of direct election of judges. The measure passed the Senate on a party-line vote, but won a handful of Democratic votes in the House.

Thirteen Arizona counties elect their superior court judges. Judges in state appellate courts and in Maricopa and Pima county superior courts are chosen by the governor from among three nominees forwarded by judicial nominating commissions. The merit-selection process has been in place since the 1970s.

If approved, the ballot measure would amend the state Constitution to require more than two dozen changes to the merit-selection process, including allowing the governor to choose from eight nominees instead of three, increasing the mandatory retirement age of judges and justices to 75 from 70 and increasing their terms to eight years from four.

The state Bar and the Arizona Judicial Council support Proposition 115. Thomas appeared to be unaware of that.

A longtime advocate of electing judges, he called the state Bar's support a "face-saving gesture."

John Phelps, CEO of the state Bar, said the organization does not support Thomas' campaign committee, though it backs the ballot measure.

"His organization has taken a position that we have a corrupt judicial system and it somehow needs to be cleaned up," Phelps said. "That's not what this proposition is about at all."

In April, a disciplinary panel convened by the Arizona Supreme Court repeatedly found clear and convincing evidence of ethical misconduct -- even criminal acts -- that it said merited disbarment for Thomas and former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon and suspension for six months and a day of former Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander.

Thomas was disbarred, which means he can longer practice law. He has repeatedly said the ethics hearing was brought against him as payback by corrupt judges and attorneys who were angry that he was investigating so-called corruption within Maricopa County government and the judiciary.

On Thursday, Thomas indicated that the public would be hearing more from him.

"I see myself as a reformer," he said. "This is the first step in taking back our government."

Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this article.

The original article can be viewed here.