AG candidates trade barbs in election race - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

AG candidates trade barbs in election race

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Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 7:53 pm | Updated: 11:23 pm, Fri Oct 1, 2010.

The two candidates who want to become the state's top lawyer traded jabs Tuesday over who has more experience.

Republican Tom Horne launched the attack by charging that Felecia Rotellini "has never tried a case in her entire life.'' He said the Democratic contender for state attorney general is misleading voters by claiming to be an experienced trial attorney.

Rotellini responded by ticking off various cases she handled while an assistant attorney general.

She conceded none of these were before a jury. But Rotellini said they required the same amount of training and preparation.

And she said that her legal experience is not only more recent than Horne, who left private practice in 2002, but that she has experience managing a state agency. That refers to her time as superintendent of the Department of Financial Institutions.

That, however, ignores the fact that Horne, as state school superintendent, managed the Department of Education for eight years.

The bickering is the latest in what has become the most antagonistic battle for statewide office in the general election.

Horne picked through a series of cases that Rotellini's campaign said demonstrates her experience. In each case, Horne said, there either was no actual jury trial or she was not involved at that stage of the case.

"I think it's a fraud on the public when she says she's an experienced trial lawyer,'' he said.

Rotellini, however, said Horne is ignoring what she did do.

In several cases, Rotellini said, she got a grand jury to return indictments charging people with crimes like fraud and theft.

Grand jury cases, though, are not trials: They simply involve the prosecutor presenting evidence to convince panelists there is sufficient evidence to believe someone committed a specific crime. There is no one presenting the arguments for the accused.

Rotellini said, though, it still requires preparing a case, just as someone would for a trial.

She said there were other instances, though, where as an assistant attorney general she tried a case in front of either a judge or a hearing officer, "with witnesses, everything a jury trial is.'' Rotellini specifically cited a 28-day case to close down a collection agency.

And Rotellini said she did handle jury trials while in private practice between 1986 and 2003.

Horne dismissed her experience as irrelevant, saying he had 30 years of private law practice, including trials.

He acknowledged that the attorney general generally does not handle trials but instead is involved in setting policy and running the state's largest law firm. Horne said, though, it's important that whoever is attorney general actually be able to run a trial.

"In important cases, the appellate courts expect the attorney general himself to do the arguing,'' he said. And Horne said a supervisor should be able to do what he or she expects from underlings.

Horne's charges come days after Rotellini said the Securities and Exchange Commission barred him from trading for life because of fraud. The actual charge the SEC found against Horne, however, dealt with the failure to maintain proper capital and inaccurate books.

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