Former County Attorney Rick Romley slams Andrew Thomas, Joe Arpaio, Dennis Wilenchik, and the new “McCarthyism” over illegal immigration.

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Rick Romley, coolest effin' Republican I know of...

I called former MCAO Rick Romley yesterday to get a quote about his endorsement of Dan Saban for Sheriff in ’08 over Nickel Bag Joe, and ended up discussing loads of stuff: the recent Wilenchik-Ryan donnybrook; current MCAO Candy “Babyface” Thomas; and what Romley characterizes as a kind of new “McCarthyism” over the issue of illegal immigration. The Vietnam vet, who served 16 years in office before ceding his position to Thomas January 1 of '05, is as emphatic as a Louisville slugger to the solar plexus. Too bad the Republican didn’t run against Gov. Janet Napolitano in ’06. His blunt, take-no-prisoners approach would have offered a strong contrast to Nappy’s Bill Clinton-like fence-sitting. Certainly he would’ve given her more of a run than wimpy lil’ Len “Premarital” Munsil, who made Manet look way more macho than she does already!

Dan Saban’s quest to topple our tyrant of a sheriff already resembles Mao’s Long March, in length, if not in ideology. The election is a year away, but Saban’s up and running on his Web site at www.sabanforsheriff.com, and garnering nods from politicos like Romley. The Romley endorsement is significant because the ex-prosecutor didn’t back anyone in ’04 for sheriff, and because Republican Romley is crossing party lines to endorse now-Democrat Saban. (Saban ran as a Republican in the ’04 primary against incumbent Arpaio.) On the other hand, it ain’t exactly shocking: Romley and Arpaio enjoy a reciprocal enmity that’s been ongoing for years.

I found Romley’s candor refreshing, so I figured I’d just put it all out there as a Q&A. Hope he runs for something again someday. I’m a “yellow dog Democrat,” normally. But here’s one Republican I could actually see myself voting for.

Why have you endorsed Dan Saban?

The bottom line is public safety has to be the number one issue in that type of race. I’ve worked with the Sheriff and I’ve worked with Dan Saban, and I think Dan Saban’s the clear choice. He will clearly bring the professionalism and the necessary traits that will be good for the community. It’s a public safety issue primarily.

Why now, a year before the election?

Actually, he asked me if I would consider endorsing him. And so far I know of no other individual that’s considering entering into the race. There’s been some talk, but from my sources that’s probably where the race is going to be. I know there’s been some talk of [U.S. Marshal] Dave Gonzales possibly on the Republican side against the Sheriff. I’ll consider giving an endorsement on the Republican side. You know, who I support from a Democratic side, who I support from a Republican side, then after the primary, I give my final choice.

You mean your endorsement might change?

The only two people in the race are Dan Saban and Joe Arpaio. You’ve got an R and a D. In that field, I’m going to be supporting Dan Saban. The only contesting we know of is the general election run. However, if there’s a primary run because a Republican runs, I’ll consider whether I should support one or the other in the Republican primary.

You must feel pretty strongly to cross party lines on this.

Let me be real clear on this. In public safety, of all races, an R or a D is not the primary consideration for me, or I, independent. It’s got to be the right person for public safety. It’s too critical of an issue. I’ve always said the politics should not override the good interests of the state. So I’m calling it as I see it. And that’s a Democrat this time.

Is Arpaio bad for public safety?

I don’t think he’s the right person for the sheriff’s office. I’ve had my personal disagreements with him. Well, "professional disagreements" is a better term. The [Scott] Norberg case and so forth. I think it would serve our community very well for there to be a change in office.

[Note: Norberg was an MCSO inmate who died in custody. His family sued and eventually scored an $8.25 million settlement.]

Was the way Saban was trashed in ’04 by Arpaio’s side a factor in your endorsement?

Quite honestly, I was aware of it. I didn’t know the intimate details. Being trashed though is just one of the considerations I put into my decision-making process. I’ve seen quite a bit of that out of the sheriff’s office in the past. Whenever there’s an opponent against Joe Arpaio, Joe gets mad. Joe Arpaio’s very angry and if you look at all his press conferences and releases, he’s mad anytime anybody says something [about him]. He’s taken it out personally, whether it was the Norberg family where they lost a son, calling him a drug addict, almost like he deserved to die. He seemed to me to be very cavalier about it. And there are other times where that occurred. Although it was a factor, it wasn’t a primary factor.

Would you characterize the MCSO as vindictive?

Vindictive? Let me put it this way. I think the sheriff doesn’t take the high ground, running a campaign on the issues. I think that the sheriff sometimes pulls some low blows, I really do.

Can you speak to the job County Attorney Andy Thomas is doing?

It’s not just me, but I’ve talked to law enforcement professionals in the different police organizations and the people inside of the office. It’s disturbing some of the things that I see. I’m very concerned about them, let me put it that way, at this time. I do have some concerns with how he’s running the office. And what he has done or not done.

In this recent brouhaha between Dennis Wilenchik and Judge Ryan, do you think Wilenchik was out of line?

Oh, absolutely. I thought it was clearly outrageous. Number one, if he disagrees with the judge's ruling, there’s a process and that’s called the appeal. Yet he didn’t appeal the matters. Then he’s claiming the judge should be recused from all cases involving the County Attorney, because the judge is a bit rude to the attorneys that are late or don’t show up in court? Well, you know what? I say good for the judge, he should be running his court as a tight ship. Time is precious, getting all those cases done. I thought it was a very, very bad decision on his part. I think that he had a remedy if he disagreed with the final rulings of the judge. He could have appealed them, which he didn’t do. But what he did is tried to make it more of a political issue. In the long run, that will be a disservice to the public.

What about Wilenchik’s ties to Thomas, and all of the work Wilenchik is getting from the MCAO? Is that an appropriate relationship?

Well, he did work with him, but an argument could be made that he has confidence in his legal skills. And I assume it went through the appropriate procurement process. We’d use outside counsel all the time. It does seem like he gets a lot of work, but without knowing the details, any allegations of any improperness [would not be prudent]. You may disagree with giving this much work to him, but I don’t know of anything technically improper.

What do you think about Thomas making illegal immigration such an important part of what his office does?

He has made that sort of a cornerstone of some of the issues that he’s dealt with. The concern I’ve heard from the police chiefs is that it seems that portion draws all of his attention – [more than] CPS, gang activity increasing dramatically, all of those traditional types of crimes that really are violent and everything else. There’s a little bit of a concern in the law enforcement community that they’re getting a little bit of second shrift, a little bit of second hand attention.

The illegal immigration issue is a serious issue. I disagree with the way he has handled it. I think he has been so shrill, that he is actually dividing our community. It’s almost like a McCarthyism atmosphere in our community, and it’s primarily being driven by some of the politicians. That doesn’t serve our state well. We should deal with this issue, 'cause a lot of it is very serious. We need to put pressure on the federal government to do a better job. But it’s the way it’s being done that I object do. It’s almost a McCarthyism atmosphere, and I think that hurts our community.

Concerning the controversy over the current Phoenix police order addressing how they deal will suspected illegal aliens, how do you think law enforcement should handle the issue?

Clearly if a crime has occurred, and they have information that they are here illegally [that’s one thing], but how do you ask somebody? How do you determine the status of an individual that hasn’t committed a crime? You can’t detain your average citizen just because they’re brown-skinned. What’s happened to America? What’s happened to civil rights? That’s absolutely wrong.

The solutions really lie at the federal level, whether or not people are willing to accept that or not. If you start making the police department immigration enforcers, you’re going to take away police officers’ time. They don’t have enough time now to do the burglaries, the thefts, those types of things. You just don’t have the resources there. The real answer has to be at the federal level. That said, I don’t think we’ve answered some of the questions of how you would enforce it. I mean, what are you saying? They’re brown-skinned therefore we should be pulling them over and asking for proof of citizenship or a green card? We can’t do that in America. So I think the question is a little bit more of how you’d do it. Other than in the case of criminal activity, how do you want the police department to get involved?

Aside from being in private practice, I know you do some work for the Attorney General’s office. What’s your opinion on this investigation the MCAO and Sheriff Arpaio are doing of the AG’s plea deal in the case of former State Treasurer David Petersen?

Look, if there is some information that warrants an investigation, you’ve got to do it. But I’ve got to tell you, what I’ve seen from the beginning to today, and the things that I kind of know, is that it’s beginning to look like it’s a political investigation versus a legitimate investigation. To say there’s a noncooperation by the Attorney General’s office, which has given out over 30,000 documents to the Sheriff and the County Attorney? There has never been a request that’s been denied for an interview from anybody taken before the grand jury. That’s full cooperation. What are they complaining about?

I’ve also got to ask you about Dennis Wilenchik going after New Times for revealing Sheriff Joe’s address online in a John Dougherty column three years ago. You think that’s kosher?

First of all, on the John Dougherty thing, it’s taken a bit long. That kind of tells me at first blush that when nobody’s willing to go forward with the prosecution this much longer, and trying to have Dennis Wilenchik be the prosecutor on that, I got to tell you, it concerns me. Nobody was willing to do it right off the cuff. If it was a real breach of the law, why wasn’t it immediately filed? Now I’m worried. You wonder with the hiring of Dennis Wilenchik, if it’s more political. They are very close, Joe Arpaio and Andy Thomas.

Why do you think they’re so close, Thomas and Arpaio? They seem like oil and water?

I think because they protect each other’s back, a little bit. It’s good that you work with law enforcement. You’ve gotta work with them. But don’t forget, we’re a checks and balance system. The County Attorney is supposed to be a check on law enforcement. If law enforcement does something wrong, as hard as it may be, you’ve got to call it. The other check is the courts. You should have a good working relationship, but you should never be so close that you can’t keep your objectivity and do your job appropriately.

Have you ever considered running for Attorney General?

Nah. I was asked to run for AG 12 years ago. It didn’t interest me.

Why not?

I don’t know. I believe in the work, very very much. But sometimes you need a break from it. My wife says I smile more today than I did when I was County Attorney. So maybe I needed a break.

What about some other elected position? Do you plan to run for office again?

Well, I don’t know about again, but no plans right now. You’ve got to talk to my wife on that one. You’ve got to ask Paul Rubin [“Balls in the Air,” December 16, 2004]. He did a big story on me, and my wife was adamantly against me running for Governor at that time. I’m not going to hold it out, but it would have to be a collective decision with my wife being involved. Right now there are absolutely no plans.

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