Former Attorney General Tom Horne’s lawsuit against Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk can go on, according to Judge Steven Logan. Horne is suing Polk for violating his rights in a case that goes all the way back to the 2010 campaign when Horne bested Democrat Felicia Rotellini, thanks in part to independent expenditures that targeted Rotellini. The IEs were the subject of a campaign finance investigation that, while normally handled by the AG’s office, was farmed out to Polk’s office since the AG could not investigate himself without a conflict of interest.
Polk, as the investigator, decided that because Horne and the outside group’s chairman Kathleen Winn were in communication during the campaign, that the IEs were illegally coordinated. Horne and Winn appealed that decision and the case was heard by an administrative law judge. The prosecution was handled by one of Polk’s deputies and Polk herself assisted in prosecuting Horne and Winn. But the administrative judge ruled for Horne and Winn, largely because Horne and Winn testified that their communications were regarding a real estate deal, not the campaign, and the prosecution had no proof to offer that the communication was in fact about the campaign.
Which is where it gets interesting, because administrative judge opinions are not binding, although they are usually followed. Polk rejected the judge’s ruling, reversed it herself, declared her deputy the winner in the case, and imposed a $1.2 Million fine on Horne and Winn. That decision was appealed by Horne and Winn, who ultimately were cleared, and then sued Polk for violating their rights.
The judge’s ruling against Polk, allowing the case to continue, made it very clear that there was no doubt that Polk was acting as both the prosecution and the judge in a manner that was obviously ethically inappropriate, and that Polk ignored the conflict of interest and proceeded in a way that was guaranteed to violate Horne’s and Winn’s due process rights.
Much of the bad press from this matter contributed to Horne’s 2014 defeat in the GOP primary to Mark Brnovich, so it will be interesting to see what the final outcome of the case will be and what sort of damages Horne and Winn will be able to recover.
In the meantime, it is another black eye for Sheila Polk, and likely an expensive mistake that will be paid for by Yavapai County taxpayers. Polk has been in office since her election in 2000 and is up for re-election again in 2020.