A prominent Valley attorney says he is facing retaliation by the State Bar of Arizona for speaking out against the organization’s wide-ranging ethics probe of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Ernest Calderón learned on Friday the State Bar plans to remove him from a position he has held since 2004 representing the organization on the national stage.
The reason? “Because I said something positive about Andy Thomas,” Calderón said.
The lawyer was one of several who went on record with the Arizona Supreme Court this week saying they thought the organization’s broad ethics inquiry of Thomas was unwarranted.
A Democrat, Calderón said he “never voted for Andy Thomas and I don’t agree with his immigration policy.”
Yet when the Republican county attorney asked him to take a close look at the details of the State Bar’s ethics investigations and give an independent opinion, he agreed to do it.
The resulting document was given to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when Thomas asked the court to step in and halt the investigations.
As part of the request, Thomas took the State Bar and its leaders to task, accusing them of bias and launching some 13 investigations against his office because they don’t agree with his politics.
Calderón’s written opinion didn’t touch on the politics or what was fueling the investigations.
Instead, he focused on whether any of the State Bar’s probes had merit. Calderón felt qualified to make that call because he previously worked for the State Bar reviewing hundreds of similar investigations.
In one probe after another, Calderón determined none against Thomas were legitimate.
The county attorney used Calderón’s five-page opinion, along with thousands of other pages of evidence, to make his request to the Supreme Court.
Those five pages, however, apparently hurt Calderón at Friday’s monthly meeting of the State Bar’s governing board.
He was scheduled to be reappointed to the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, a prestigious position given to four Arizona lawyers each year.
Delegates help the national organization decide its public policy. Calderón has served as one of Arizona’s delegates since 2004.
At Friday’s meeting, though, the State Bar’s governing board unanimously decided to look for someone else to fill the post this year.
State Bar President Dan McAuliffe said he gave a short presentation about Thomas’ actions and the lawyers who had helped the county attorney. But he said he didn’t try to influence anyone at the meeting.
“Some people thought Ernie hadn’t been a very good friend to the Bar over the years,” McAuliffe said later.
But a friend to the State Bar is exactly how Calderón sees himself.
“I love the State Bar and I love the profession and I love the lawyers in it,” he said by phone from New York.
Calderón served as the organization’s president from 2002 to 2003, sat on the governing board for seven years and has served on many Bar committees.
Beyond that, Calderón is a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2004, and the governor’s P-20 Council on education. He is a past or current board member of dozens of state and local organizations.
“Maybe he shouldn’t have filed the affidavit,” said McAuliffe, referring to Calderón’s written opinion.
Calderón said he wasn’t trying to defend Thomas when he wrote his opinion. The county attorney’s office paid him to get an unbiased perspective, he said.
“All I did was I issued my best judgment,” he said.
Still, McAuliffe, who said he did not vote on the decision to replace Calderón, added that the board’s choice was probably based on more than just the Thomas issue.
“It might be time for new blood,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe was among the State Bar leaders attacked by Thomas earlier this week. Thomas accused him of working with the State Bar’s investigators to go after the county attorney’s office, allegations McAuliffe denies.
Calderón said he believes the State Bar’s decision was made solely because of his work for Thomas.
Still, he said he will continue to care deeply about Arizona’s legal community, even after Friday’s body blow.
“I can’t even be angry,” Calderón said. “I’m just numb. I’m stunned.”