Judge tosses campaign finance case against Horne

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- An administrative law judge on Tuesday threw out a civil complaint accusing Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne of illegally coordinating his 2010 election campaign with a separate group supposedly operating independently, potentially ending one of three problems Horne faces as he prepares for a 2014 re-election race.

The ruling by Judge Tammy L. Eigenheer said the Arizona Secretary of State's office made a mistake when it referred the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The case, by law, should instead have been sent to Horne's office first, since he's the state's chief legal officer, even though there was an obvious conflict of interest. The judge noted that Horne had declared a conflict earlier and allowed outside lawyers help in the probe but that didn't waive his right to have first crack at the civil enforcement case.

The ruling also dismissed civil cases against Horne confidant Kathleen Winn and the group she led. Winn attorney Timothy La Sota could not be reached after hours Tuesday.

Horne's spokeswoman said he was pleased and was reviewing the ruling. A spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the ruling was under review.

Jerry Cobb, spokesman for county attorney Bill Montgomery, said he plans an appeal.

Montgomery filed a civil action in October demanding Horne's 2010 campaign and Business Leaders for Arizona, return up to $513,000 of contributions. He also said he planned to seek large civil fines.

Candidates cannot discuss strategy or other matters with so-called independent expenditure committees, but there's evidence that Horne was involved in both raising money and deciding how to spend it on advertising by Business Leaders for Arizona, Montgomery said when he announced he was pursuing the case.

Horne, a lawyer who is the top-elected law enforcement official for the state, has denied any coordination.

Horne defeated Democrat Felecia Rotellini, a former prosecutor and bank regulator, by approximately 63,000 votes out of a total of 1.6 million ballots cast in the 2010 general election for attorney general. She has announced she will run again in 2014.

Winn has denied that her group coordinated its fundraising or spending with Horne.

Horne also is facing a misdemeanor hit-and-run case that came to light as FBI agents trailed him while apparently investigating the campaign finance case. The State Bar, which oversees lawyer licensing, is also investigating Horne over allegations stemming from the alleged campaign finance violations.

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