A Maricopa County Attorney spokesman lambasted a motion filed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Superior Court urging the court to require the board's approval before any specially appointed deputy county attorneys attend "the grand jury."
The documents, filed Friday, note that special deputy county attorneys were appointed by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office without the board's authorization.
Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney, described the move as a "shocking development."
Lotstein said he couldn't confirm or deny any grand jury investigation but added that the move on the part of the Board of Supervisors had nothing to do with the attorneys. He said these were only delay tactics in the criminal investigation of county Supervisor Don Stapley, and attempts to get information about "a possible investigation."
"Those out-of-town attorneys have not even been appointed, because the Board of Supervisors has refused to appoint them," Lotstein added.
The board has been in a power struggle with Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio since Stapley was indicted in December on 118 counts related to alleged failure to disclose financial information that was required of an elected official. That case was dismissed in September.
The sheriff's office arrested Stapley three days later on campaign finance fraud-related charges. He was subsequently released on his own recognizance, but no charges were filed because Thomas has disqualified himself from prosecuting Stapley on grounds of possible conflict of interest. Instead, Thomas has tried to hire Joseph diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, as special prosecutors, from Washington, D.C.
Thomas has since accused the board of hindering an investigation into Stapley by refusing to authorize diGenova and Toensing.
Lotstein questioned why Thomas Irvine, who represents the board, would file this motion, which he said was clearly an attempt to protect Stapley and had nothing to do with the Board.
"Irvine doesn't represent Stapley; he represents the board," Lotstein said. "They have no right to invade the grand jury's province and to try and delay investigation of one of their members."
Irvine could not immediately be reached for comment. An e-mailed statement sent by Board of Supervisors spokesman Richard De Uriarte noted: "We want to make sure that the 'DC attorneys,' who have not been properly procured by the County Attorney, do not appear in a grand jury or any other setting given that such appearance is unlawful for a number of reasons. We respect the operation of the Grand Jury process and want the Criminal Court to be aware that the County Attorney could be facilitating unlawful appearances and believe the Board's motion protects and serves the sanctity of the Grand Jury process. Any other characterization of the County's act is yet another cowardly attack by the County Attorney's Office on those legal professionals who respect the rule of law."
De Uriarte clarified those reasons, writing that the prosecutors are not county residents and not licensed to practice law in Arizona. Also, he noted, Thomas had referred the Stapley indictment earlier this year to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office and had said that office would handle all future investigations and prosecutions involving the county management or board.