- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to review a finding that former Attorney General Tom Horne violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 campaign.

The decision by the state’s highest court gives Horne and aide Kathleen Winn one last chance to overturn a decision that has left Horne facing an order to repay $400,000 to donors and the possibility of up to $1.2 million in fines.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk found in 2013 that Horne and Winn illegally coordinated campaign spending while Winn ran an outside group backing his campaign against Democrat Felecia Rotellini. Horne and Winn deny they did anything illegal.

The court ordered the parties to provide an additional briefing by mid-January and said it will set the case for oral argument.

The issue is separate from a criminal probe of Horne’s failed 2014 re-election campaign that has now been closed without charges by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. A retired judge and Gilbert’s town attorney are trying to determine if Horne violated civil law by using his office staff to run the 2014 campaign. That case is ongoing. Horne agreed to pay $10,000 of his own money to settle allegations from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission related to the same issues.

In the 2010 case, an administrative law judge recommended that it be dropped after hearing three days of testimony in 2014. But Polk rejected the decision and reinstated the case, ordering him to repay donors.

Horne and Winn have lost subsequent appeals, including a February ruling by the state court of appeals that upheld Polk’s decision.

The three appeals court judges said in their ruling that they must defer to Polk’s decision that Horne and aide Kathleen Winn illegally coordinated spending on his campaign and that she didn’t abuse her discretion.

Horne said it was “good news” that the Supreme Court decided to review the case but declined further comment on advice of his attorney. Winn’s lawyer, Tim La Sota, said his client has been trying to get the courts to overrule what he believes is an unfair finding by Polk to ignore the administrative law judge’s decision.

“This case, the only time it’s gone in front of someone who had the opportunity to assess the credibility of the witnesses and review all the documentary evidence found that there was no violation of the campaign finance laws,” La Sota said. “We’ve always maintained the case was lacking, there was no coordination.”

The high court is being asked by attorneys for Horne and Winn to overturn that decision and a raft of state case law that allows an agency head to overrule an administrative law judge’s decision in a matter related to a finding by that agency head.

Horne was attorney general when the secretary of state’s office referred a complaint about the alleged campaign collusion, and it ended up assigned to Polk to avoid a conflict.

The high court asked current Attorney General Mark Brnovich to weigh in on whether to take the case, but he recused himself because he commented on the case during his successful 2014 primary run against Horne. Brnovich’s solicitor general, John Lopez, urged the court to take the case to settle the issue of whether Polk’s overriding of a judge violated due process rights.

Coincidentally, Lopez himself is set to join the court later this month after being appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey to one of two new seats.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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