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Updated Jul 29, 2014 - 10:34 am

Horne's legal issues cited in Arizona AG debate

Republican Mark Brnovich, left, and current Arizona Attorney General, Republican Tom Horne, right, during their Monday night live debate. (Twitter Photo/@arizonapbs)

PHOENIX --Attorney General Tom Horne came under repeated attack over his many legal issues during a combative debate with his Republican primary opponent Monday night as they sparred on topics such as ethics, integrity and legal qualifications to be the state's chief law enforcement officer.

Horne boasted of his record fighting the Obama administration in court and going after drug cartels, and said his legal problems were the result of attacks from the "liberal press." Brnovich accused Horne of a "Nixonian" mentality as he constantly blames others for his problems.

"We cannot afford to have an attorney general that's constantly under investigation. He spends more time in a courtroom as a defendant than he does litigating cases," Brnovich said in the 30-minute televised debate. "Unfortunately, Tom has been distracted by his legal and ethical problems. It's hard to be an effective attorney general when you're constantly mired in scandal."

Horne is facing two investigations into allegations that he illegally used his staff to run his re-election campaign.

He is suing to block the investigation by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which could order him removed from office. Horne has said the commission doesn't have the authority to enforce election laws for candidates not participating in Arizona's public campaign financing system.

Horne already is appealing a finding by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he and a top aide illegally coordinated spending by an outside group supporting his 2010 election bid.

"We are happy to go to court," said Horne, noting that he has tried cases for more than 30 years and won two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court last year that saved Arizona millions of dollars.

"I have a long record of fighting the Obama administration overreach," Horne added.

Horne also said he's won 14 previous elections and called Brnovich "a minor leaguer" who "can't compete in a general election" and "has no achievements he can point to."

Brnovich previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, focusing on federal gambling-related crimes.

He was state Department of Gaming director for four years until resigning in October to run for the office of Arizona's top prosecutor. He has the endorsement of Gov. Jan Brewer.

"We want an attorney general with integrity and character. I will put my ethics up against Tom," Brnovich said. "At some point, you're responsible for what you do. You just can't keep blaming other people for your problems."

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November. Horne beat Rotellini by about 4 percent of the votes cast in the 2010 general election.

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