The Arizona coverage of a recent high-level attorney ethics investigation is pretty all-encompassing. So much so, that I doubted whether I would often have much to add in the media mix.

E.J. Montini

But the Arizona Republic’s drowsy coverage of the issue leaves so many open questions that a fella with his own keyboard has ample opportunity. Yesterday’s column by E.J. Montini continues in that vein. It may have been phoned in from some undisclosed location, but it sounds like it could have been written by his story subject.

It was just last week that John Gleason, the independent investigator named by the Arizona Supreme Court, announced the 34 ethics allegations that will likely form the basis for his formal charges, expected to come in January. Those charges will be leveled against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and deputy attorneys Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander.

The press conference was instructive, but Robert Robb’s Arizona Republic column not long after was even more eye opening. I wrote about it here.

In it, he argued that Gleason’s report detailing the allegations was an example of gross overcharging. He assured readers he was not defending Thomas’s actions, but come on. 34 allegations?

I wondered whether Robb would provide any evidence for his statement that elected county attorneys throughout Arizona “uniformly reject” the proposition that the Ethical Rules constrain them as they do private-side attorneys. To date, he hasn’t provided statements agreeing with his supposition that elected lawyers are “lawyers-plus.” And because he said “uniformly,” he must be speaking about every one of those county attorneys, right?

Well, Sunday’s column by Montini demonstrates that Robb will not be the only Republic writer dead set on “praising Thomas with faint damn” (yes, I mean as opposed to damning him with faint praise). As Robb did, Montini first establishes his cred by waving his pen toward the fact that he does not like all of Thomas’s past actions (“Solid balanced journo bona fides? Check!”). And then he goes on to muddy some waters — all to the benefit of Andrew Thomas.

It begins with the second graf, where Montini (or Thomas, or whoever wrote this) says that the three-person discipline panel “will be convened by the State Bar of Arizona.”

Not true. That will be the Arizona Supreme Court’s role. The State Bar has nothing to do with this investigation and eventual prosecution—except that it is footing the bill.

He then goes on for an odd bit about how those who investigate Thomas also “hate” him.

I’ve worked with a lot of prosecutors, and I think “hate” may be a strong word to use about them. And I have never heard the Republic bemoan a dearth of love in prosecutors’ hearts; usually that paper demands swift and firm justice. (Maybe this signals the paper’s adopting a new compassionate view toward defendants and lawyer respondents—but somehow I doubt it applies outside this case.)

Soon after, Montini writes, “Among other things Gleason concluded, ‘The allegations of misconduct committed by Thomas and (former Deputy County Attorney Lisa) Aubuchon, if proven, warrant disbarment.’”

We only will deduct a half-point for that statement. Gleason was not aimlessly and venomously musing; he was quoting the ABA Standards on lawyer discipline. And usually, defendants and respondents want to be informed of what liability they may be up against. But Montini is stunned that a prosecutor would do such a thing. And that shock provides Thomas the chance to claim Gleason “hasn’t been fair throughout the process.”

Montini may not know this, but Thomas’s “not fair” statement is a pretty common claim by lawyers charged with ethical lapses. But how about some evidence of unfairness? None is provided.

The column’s worst failing, though, is this whopper, spoken by Thomas.

“I’m concerned about the fact that I’m apparently not going to have a lawyer” (other than himself).

Whoa, Nelly. Montini’s column makes it sound like the Supreme Court discipline process does not allow Thomas to be represented by a lawyer. If that’s the situation, let’s have a front-page story about it, because that would be news.

Thomas doesn’t expound on that claim, because dissecting it might show that the only debate is about whether the public will pay for his lawyer—NOT whether he gets a lawyer, which he certainly is permitted to have.

(Montini ends his column with Thomas saying that the investigation of his transgressions threatens “the rule of law.” We award Montini’s failure to comment on that statement a half point for chutzpah and irony.)

Reading Rob Robb and E.J. Montini tells us two things: the budget cuts at the Arizona Republic may have eliminated telephones from columnists’ desks, which could be used to check a couple of these facts.

And it reveals the approach that may be taken in the next year of the Republic’s legal ethics coverage. I mean, it’s no crime to like the former county attorney; they’re entitled to their favorites. But the newspaper’s long-term love–like relationship with him is a bit much; maybe they should get a room (at the new court tower!).

Until then, some fact-checking would be nice.

Read Montini’s complete column here.