My Turn: Actions of Arpaio, Thomas a threat to justice

I wrote an opinion that appeared in the Arizona Republic this past Tuesday. In the column, I referred to my six months involvement with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas. I carefully avoided any comments about the facts of criminal cases pending there and do not comment about the merits of any cases here. My concern is with the manner in which Arpaio and Thomas are wielding their police and prosecutorial powers and their disregard for the rule of law.

Maricopa County is not my jurisdiction; as a conservative who passionately believes in limited government, I find I can no longer sit quietly by watching the events unfold there. The actions of Arpaio and Thomas are a disservice to the hundreds of dedicated men and women who work in their offices, and a threat to the entire criminal justice system. For that reason, after much deliberation and soul-searching, I chose to publicly speak out.

Peace officers and prosecutors take an oath of office that is sacred. We swear, under God, to support and defend our Constitution and our laws against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We also swear to "impartially discharge the duties of the office." In maintaining public safety, we must respect the separation of powers and the limitations on our respective offices. Every day, in every single thing we do to keep our communities safe, we must respect the rule of law.

Law enforcement and prosecutors throughout the state have been my second family for the past 26 years and I am proud of our profession. We are a brotherhood that must hold each other to the highest of standards. Our vocation is to seek justice. When one of us forsakes our role as protectors of the Constitution, it is up to the others to speak out.

In response to my column, David Hendershott, the chief deputy for the Maricopa County Sheriff, charged that my actions are politically motivated by a desire to become a judge. This is completely false. While I was considered in 2006 for a position on the Arizona Court of Appeals, I was not selected. Since that time, several vacancies have occurred on the Yavapai County Superior Court bench, the Arizona Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court, and I have not applied nor considered applying. In 2008 I was re-elected for my third term as Yavapai County Attorney and have no further interest in a judgeship. I believe I can best serve the people in my role as County Attorney. This false accusation about my motives is just deflecting from the real issue: abuse of authority by these two elected officials.

Publicly stating my concerns about events in Maricopa County is an action I took with great reluctance. This is not about me, nor is it in my best interest. Keeping my views to myself about this abuse of authority by these popular officials would have been the easiest route and obviously the most politically expedient. However, that would not have been in society's best interest.

Why did I choose to speak out when I could have remained silent, tucked safely away from controversy? The answer is found in my ethics training. Every attorney is required to take ethics classes every year. Beginning in 2006 and continuing to the present, I have participated in ethics training provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The training, titled "Lessons of the Holocaust," studies the history of the Nazi rise to power and the role of our modern counterparts, including law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, doctors, reporters and professors.

I am not suggesting that current events in Maricopa County are in any way comparable to the Holocaust or that any elected official has behaved as those in Nazi Germany did. It is important not to take my words out of context.

What is relevant from this training, however, is that in pre-Nazi Germany seemingly small erosions of the rights of the people eventually created an opportunity for those that followed to commit the most horrific crimes in history. It is crucial that we do not start down the slippery slope and that our Constitution and carefully crafted system of checks and balances be respected and maintained. We can never allow the ends to justify the means.

The "Lessons of the Holocaust" training is required for all FBI agents and is offered to professionals across the nation. Prosecutors and judges throughout Arizona have received the training and our Yavapai County law enforcement officers will soon join the ranks. The program emphasizes our core values, our obligation to protect the rights and liberties set forth in the Constitution, and commitment to following the rule of law in ensuring public safety.

It is my commitment to these principles that drives me to speak out.

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney


Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.