Nov. 2, 2010: Bill Montgomery waves to the crowd after giving a victory speech at the GOP election headquarters at the Hyatt in Phoenix. (Photo: Pat Shannahan, Arizona Republic)

The Sunday Arizona Republic ran a good profile about the man about to become the most influential lawyer in Arizona.

No, not the new state Attorney General, Tom Horne. I was referring to Bill Montgomery, who on November 22 will punch a clock as the new Maricopa County Attorney.

Arizona Attorney Magazine is a statewide publication, so we tend not to cover county-specific races and positions. Which may be a shame, because that meant we sidelined ourselves as the oddest squadron of legal types wreaked havoc over the state’s largest county over the past few years. And at the center of the maelstrom were two county positions: Sheriff and Attorney.

Michael Kiefer’s profile of Bill Montgomery managed to leave the starting gate before Montgomery even sat in the chair. Therefore, we’ll have to reserve judgment on whether the results align with the new prosecutor’s stated aims: to serve “the cause of justice and the people of Maricopa County.”

Kiefer hedges his bets by noting in the second graf that Sheriff Joe Arpaio “contributed heavily to Montgomery’s Republican primary win by bankrolling attack ads against Montgomery’s primary opponent, Interim County Attorney Rick Romley.”

It’s not easy, Kiefer suggests, to decline to dance with the one who brung ya.

Andrew Thomas

Montgomery seems to be aware of this, and went out of his way to reassure Kiefer and readers that he is his own man.

There are a lot of good reasons to do that.

First, of course, it would appear (even to a non-ethics expert such as me) that it is simply the right thing to do. As Montgomery said, “I can’t use the criminal-justice system to effect a policy outcome if I don’t have the evidence or the ability to prosecute a case ethically in the first place.”

It may be a sign of how far we have fallen in Arizona that a statement like that yields a sigh of relief in a reader; anywhere else in the country, it would cause readers to say, “Well, duh; that’s Crim Law 101.”

Second, it may be the right thing for Bill Montgomery to do—for himself. It can’t have escaped his attention that waging high-profile war with other agencies, county supervisors and even judges did not translate into fame, fortune and a life of unalloyed praise for his predecessor and the sheriff. Sure, it’s always possible that Andrew Thomas may be hosting his own Fox News show one of these days, but right now? He’s just practicing law, and continuing to stare at the possibility of formal bar charges.

And the sheriff? Well, he’s been a little quieter lately. Elections may have consequences, but so do active county supervisors, and an inquisitive Department of Justice.

You can read the entire story here.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about other leaders who are buoyed along the political current by supporters, some of whom the leaders wish would stay in the shadows. Sometimes it works, but sometimes …

(Full disclosure: I am a State Bar employee, but I have nothing to do with the Lawyer Regulation Department. And in the case of Andy Thomas, even the Lawyer Regulation Department is out of that loop. By Arizona Supreme Court order, it is being investigated by Colorado lawyer John Gleason; the probable-cause panelist is former Arizona Chief Justice Charles Jones. So far, no formal charges have been brought in the matter. So my musings are just that.)

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