Two prosecutors took the stand Tuesday in a hearing to determine whether the criminal case against Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox should be dismissed.
Even though Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas are at odds over the validity of the case, they seemed to agree that conflicts between Polk and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his top deputy, David Hendershott, landed the case back in Thomas' lap after he had washed his hands of it.
Polk and Thomas described how the tension between Polk and Arpaio and Hendershott culminated in a heated meeting in October in which the two lawmen continuously tried to persuade Thomas to take back the Wilcox case and one against fellow Supervisor Don Stapley after Polk scolded Arpaio for perceived missteps and suggested another police agency investigate.
"He said, 'nobody tells me to get off my cases,'" Polk said on the witness stand in a packed downtown Phoenix courtroom.
Wilcox is asking the court to disqualify Thomas from her prosecution, alleging that he is too biased against her and has too many conflicts to fulfill his responsibility as a "minister of justice" in her case.
Judge John S. Leonardo of Cochise County Superior Court took the issue under advisement.
Indictments allege Wilcox violated conflict of interest laws for votes she made as a supervisor to appropriate money to a nonprofit organization that had lent her money. Stapley is indicted on theft and fraud charges in connection with a run for the presidency of an association for counties. Stapley was indicted in November 2008 on allegations he did not disclose financial information he was required to as an elected official. That case, now referred to as Stapley I, was dismissed and is on appeal by the state. Polk agreed in April to take over the Stapley I case after Thomas decided he had to find another prosecutor to quell charges of him having conflicts of interest.
Polk also agreed to oversee other investigations of Maricopa County officials.
Polk said she advised and worked with sheriff's detectives on the Wilcox case, but she didn't believe there was evidence of any crimes.
She believed the second Stapley case, or Stapley II, had merit, but more investigation was necessary.
Polk said she and Hendershott began butting heads immediately because he was asking for grand jury subpoenas on criteria that didn't meet her office's standards for issuing them.
She said Hendershott wanted to sweep through the lives of people without having any evidence of a crime.
Polk said she was explaining to Arpaio and Hendershott on a Friday that she was going to dismiss the Stapley I case for tactical reasons, but she intended to re-file it.
She told them that Stapley II needed more investigation before she would take it to a grand jury.
Three days later, sheriff's deputies arrested Stapley on the Stapley II allegations.
"I was shocked," Polk said.
Stapley walked out of jail and charges weren't brought for three more months.
Polk said the arrest provided Stapley with the allegation that the second case was brought out of retaliation.
Thomas said he intervened in the case again, after Arpaio and Hendershott applied pressure on him to take the case back and he saw that their relationship with Polk had become dysfunctional.
He said he tried to find another prosecutor, but the Board of Supervisors wouldn't agree to his request, so he took the cases back in full.
Polk took the unusual step in December of writing a letter to the Arizona Republic to criticize Thomas and accused him of abusing his power.