PHOENIX (CN) — A neutral party must decide whether former Attorney General Tom Horne broke Arizona’s campaign finance laws by using paid employees to run his re-election campaign out of his office, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled.
Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Clint Bolick vacated a $397,000 penalty against Horne, because Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, who issued the penalty, also helped prosecute Horne for the violations.
Horne was Arizona attorney general from 2011 to 2015. He and Polk are both Republicans. Yavapai County is in central Arizona, with its seat in Prescott.
Polk, who investigated Horne’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns for attorney general, acknowledged to an administrative law judge that she assisted the prosecution’s case against Horne.
Bolick found in his May 25 opinion that Polk’s decision to reject the same administrative law judge’s order – which found that Polk had failed to prove Horne’s malfeasance – created a conflict of interest.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett appointed Polk to investigate the accusations against Horne in 2014, including allegations that he used employees at the attorney general’s office to solicit campaign donations during working hours.
After Polk ordered Horne’s campaign to refund $397,000 in campaign funds, and refused the administrative law judge’s recommendation, Horne argue to the Maricopa County Superior Court that Polk’s rejection of the administrative law judge’s order violated his due process rights.
But the Superior Court affirmed Polk’s findings, and the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the Superior Court ruling.
However, the state supreme court vacated Polk’s order on Thursday, saying “the due process guarantee prohibited her [Polk] from then serving as the final adjudicator” after aiding the prosecution in Horne’s case.
“Polk … commenced investigation and issued a lengthy decision finding a legal violation and ordering compliance, which would have been a final determination had appellants not appealed,” the 13-page opinion states.
“In the subsequent ALJ [administrative law judge] proceeding, Polk admittedly ‘was involved with the prosecution of the case, by assisting with the preparation and strategy.’ Thereafter, she issued a final administrative determination affirming her prior order and rejecting most of the ALJ’s conclusions of law.
“So we have here not only a single agency performing accusatory, advocacy, and adjudicatory functions, but the same individual performing all three functions. … Polk was in the position to affirm the very determination and order that she initially issued.”
The court remanded to the Attorney General’s Office, with instructions to nominate a “neutral decisionmaker” to revisit Horne’s case.
It added: “We express no opinion on the merits of the case.”