A judge refused to block the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors from setting up its own legal team Thursday, and signaled he is sympathetic to the board’s arguments in its ongoing battle with County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Judge Donald Daughton refused to issue a temporary restraining order sought by Thomas to halt the board’s creation of a legal unit outside the county attorney’s office to handle lawsuits.
The board approved the new unit Monday, sweeping more than $500,000 from Thomas’ budget to help pay for it.
After refusing to grant the restraining order, Daughton said the county attorney should be held to the same ethical rules prohibiting conflicts of interest that apply to other lawyers.
That is the same argument being made by the board’s lawyers as they fight Thomas’ attempts to undo a series of votes since December that would strip his office of the power to represent the county in civil cases.
The only issue in front of Daughton at Thursday’s hearing was whether to block the latest action by the board. The broader issue in the case is whether Thomas has a conflict of interest in acting as the county’s civil lawyer at the same time he has sued the board.
The supervisors took action to remove Thomas as their lawyer after he announced in December of the indictment of Supervisor Don Stapley, a Mesa Republican, of 118 criminal charges.
Daughton said after refusing to grant the restraining order that the board has the right to decide if the county attorney has a conflict of interest and pick a new lawyer.
Eric Dowell, the private attorney representing Thomas Thursday, said Daughton’s ruling would be appealed.
Tom Irvine, the lawyer representing the board, called Daughton’s comments “extremely positive.”
Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney, said the judge’s ruling and comments afterward do not undermine Thomas’ case.
“This does not affect the merits of our position that the board has acted unlawfully,” Lotstein said.