After a months-long dispute over control of federal anti-racketeering money, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to retain outside counsel to review all future requests from county attorney’s requests for funds from an anti-racketeering fund.
The decision Tuesday essentially means that Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall no longer has the ability to solely make decisions regarding her office’s use of anti-racketeering funds, according to Supervisor Sharon Bronson.
A recent change in state law says the board must review and approve the county attorney’s requests from the fund, but LaWall previously had the ability to approve requests for her office.
Now, the outside counsel will review the request and make a recommendation to the board as to whether it should approve or deny the funding request. Until Tuesday, Chief Civil Deputy Andrew Flagg acted as counsel for the board, which supervisors say is a conflict of interest, since he’s employed by LaWall.
The board’s vote came days after LaWall refused to provide information justifying her decision to send 10 members of her office’s Victim Services Division to Las Vegas to assist victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting.
On Oct. 11, LaWall requested funds from the county attorney’s Anti-Racketeering Revolving Fund and told the board the Nevada Attorney General’s Office had requested assistance from her office, according to a memo from Pima County Supervisor Chuck Huckelberry.
The money in the account comes from funds seized from individuals accused of crimes under the Racketeer Influence Corruption Organization act, known as RICO, and is meant to be used by for crime-fighting and crime-prevention purposes.
After staffers returned from the trip, LaWall declined to turn over the letter to supervisors.
While LaWall has now provided the board with the request letter from the Nevada attorney general, Bronson said it’s a moot point since the board has already voted to remove LaWall’s office as their legal counsel for RICO expenditures.
On Oct. 17. Huckelberry recommended the board approve the request to use the RICO funds, subject to “itemization of all expenses” and additional information from LaWall, and the item passed.
On Oct. 30, LaWall sent a memo to Chief Deputy Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher, saying that while the board requested information relating to LaWall’s decision to send the Victim Services staff to assist in Las Vegas, she “respectfully” declined the request to provide information.
In the memo, LaWall said the information the board was asking for is related to her judgments and decisions, “which are not subject to board review.”
LaWall attached a memo from Flagg, who also acts as counsel for the supervisors, saying, “The board’s authority is limited to determining whether the requested expenditure is authorized by state or federal law.”
The board’s authority, he said, does not extend to “questioning the wisdom or necessity” of the proposed expenditure.
“The board ... exceeded its authority in requesting and explanation of necessity and documentation regarding the Nevada Attorney General’s request for (the county attorney’s) assistance,” Flagg wrote in the memo.
Days later, Huckelberry sent a memo in response, disagreeing with LaWall’s decision to refuse to share the Nevada AG’s request.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the board decided to retain outside counsel and is seeking the assistance of J. Arthur Eaves, who has worked with the Maricopa County supervisors for oversight of anti-racketeering expenditures.
Huckelberry recommended that supervisors retain Eaves on a case-by-case basis to review whether the request for RICO funds falls into permissible use.
Although LaWall refused the supervisors’ request to share documentation of the Nevada request for assistance, days after her refusal, a letter from the attorney general, thanking her for the help, was posted to the county attorney’s Facebook page, Supervisor Ally Miller pointed out.
“Withholding the information from the Nevada attorney general is really flying in the face of transparency,” Miller said, pointing out that Flagg represents both the county attorney and advises the board, which she said is a conflict of interest.
She also suggested the outside counsel review LaWall’s Oct. 30 memo, in which she refused to justify her decision to send staffers to Las Vegas, saying supervisors deserve documentation for the expense.
LaWall’s memo, Bronson said, essentially claims privilege.
“I don’t understand how this is privileged. We are just asking for facts,” she said. “I think she waived that privilege.
“Because she can’t have it both ways and tell us that she won’t disclose and brag about it on Facebook.”
The motion to authorize Huckelberry to hire outside counsel unanimously passed Tuesday. LaWall did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.
On Wednesday, Bronson told the Star she believes that Flagg giving the board legal advice is a conflict of interest, as LaWall is his boss.
“This whole RICO thing that we are now responsible for, in the end, the buck stops with us,” she said. “If we don’t get good legal advice or if it’s coming from LaWall’s office, it’s automatically a conflict.”
Bronson also said LaWall’s refusal to produce the Nevada attorney general’s request letter, noting that the “thank you” letter was dated the same day as LaWall’s memo refusing to comply with the board’s request, was “stunning.”
“Stunningly bad optics, number one. It alarms me. I’m concerned,” she said.
The documentation “certainly lacks any kind of transparency or accountability, in my view,” Bronson said.
“We still need outside counsel,” she said. “The ball’s in our court now, and we need some serious, independent oversight.”