The season has started — not fall, elections.
Democratic state attorney general candidate Felecia Rotellini effectively launched the 2010 election season in Payson by touting her 25 years of prosecutorial experience and vowing to keep politics out of prosecutions in her appearance before the Payson Democratic Women’s Club.
“The attorney general’s office should not be political,” said Rotellini, a career prosecutor who worked in the attorney general’s office under Grant Woods, Janet Napolitano and Terry Goddard. “One of the things we’re very worried about on the Republican side is some people running have a political agenda.”
Republicans already in the running include State Superintendent of Education Tom Horne and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader David Lujan, a former deputy attorney general, has indicated he might also run. But Rotellini said merely that her probable opponent in the primary was a “great man,” and saved her rhetorical fire for her potential Republican opponents.
“It’s important that the person who runs the largest law firm in the state knows how to run a law firm,” said Rotellini, citing her decades of experience as a prosecutor at the state and local level.
She has served in both the civil and criminal divisions of the AG’s office, including recent prosecution of mortgage and complex financial frauds and the intricate Baptist Church Foundation case, a $215-million Ponzi scheme that became one of the biggest investment fraud cases in state history.
She said both of her potential Republican opponents are primarily career politicians. “It’s easy for career politicians to make decisions that are not in the best interests of the state.”
She said Thomas has abused his office by pressing so many death penalty cases that his office has been losing convictions and letting cases languish for lack of resources. Moreover, she made reference to a controversial case in which Thomas and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio arrested several journalists and editors working for New Times after the paper criticized them both and published the sheriff’s address. A judge threw out the case and reproached both Thomas and Arpaio.
Thomas “has abused his office to chill anyone trying to oppose him,” said Rotellini.
She dismissed Horne’s lack of experience as a prosecutor. Horne has a degree from Harvard Law School, served in the legislature and spent 24 years as a school board member, before his election to the state’s top education post in 2002.
“I didn’t even know he was a lawyer,” said Rotellini.
The career prosecutor leaned heavily on her experience in the attorney general’s office, under both Republican and Democratic attorney generals.
She said that enforcement of the law was “a sacred trust” and that she would ensure that politics never intruded into decisions about what cases to accept and pursue.
The attorney general’s office provides legal advice to state agencies, handles death penalty appeals and prosecutes, provides support and expertise for many child abuse cases and prosecutes many consumer protection and fraud cases.
The office also offers one of the high-visibility stepping stones to the governorship. Napolitano made the jump successfully and incumbent Attorney General Terry Goddard is exploring a run for governor next year.
Rotellini after the meeting said she had no higher political ambitions beyond running the attorney general’s office, which employs so many lawyers it qualifies as the biggest law firm in the state.
She said that she’s spent years working on complex financial cases, just the kind of background needed in view of the proliferation of financial scams generated by the recession and the role that fraud and manipulation played in triggering the underlying financial melt-down.
She said, for instance, that she helped push through recent laws that require the licensing of mortgage brokers, in reaction to the role such unlicensed middle-men played in putting together the subprime loans that triggered the current recession and still spreading bank failures.
“I’m pro-business, pro-consumer — but also pro-regulation,” she said.
She said the attorney general’s office should protect consumers and ensure a “level playing field.”
She vowed to “stay with the facts, stay with the law and just stick it out and do the right thing.”