PHOENIX (Legal Newsline) -- A judge has ruled that a campaign finance case against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and office employee Kathleen Winn cannot move forward.
The case was due to be heard next week, according to the Arizona Republic.
On Thursday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea said Secretary of State Ken Bennett did not follow enforcement procedures, the Republic reported.
Bennett had referred the case to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, instead of Horne himself.
According to the newspaper, Montgomery is prevented from taking any action against the attorney general and Winn. Rea's ruling also awards the two attorneys fees and dismisses a related administrative proceeding.
The case now goes back to Bennett's office for review.
It can still be pursued, the judge ruled, but it first must be submitted to Horne, as the state's attorney general.
"Going through the seemingly formalized dance of the Secretary referring the matter to the Attorney General and the Attorney General recusing himself and the matter going to another agency is not senseless or meaningless," Rea wrote in his judgment, according to the Republic.
"The fact that observance of the express statutory procedure would require a few extra steps in these circumstances does not justify simply abandoning it."
In October, Montgomery announced he was initiating a civil enforcement action against Horne and Winn, general director of community outreach for Horne's office, for alleged campaign finance violations.
Montgomery said the allegations stem from an 11-month-long FBI investigation into Business Leaders for Arizona, or BLA, an independent expenditure committee chaired by Winn, and operated in "close coordination" with Horne in violation of state code.
Horne has been under investigation for allegations that he worked with the independent expenditure committee to run ads against his 2010 Democratic opponent -- which is not permitted under Arizona law.
Horne has denied being involved with BLA, which raised and spent $500,000 to run television advertisements attacking Felecia Rotellini.
Horne, a Republican, defeated Rotellini in 2010 to become the state's top lawyer. Rotellini has announced she is again running for attorney general in 2014.
Horne has said the accusations were "conjured up" by a disgruntled employee and former campaign supporter, Don Dybus.
"The conduct in question is expressly prohibited by Arizona's election laws and we will work to hold those responsible accountable," Montgomery said in a statement in October.
According to the results of the FBI's investigation, Horne actively directed BLA's fundraising and communications strategy with Winn in the final weeks of his 2010 campaign for attorney general.
During this time period, BLA raised more than $500,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee and individual donors, which paid for television advertisements advocating against Rotellini.
After reviewing the investigation, Bennett determined there was "reasonable cause" to believe Horne and Winn's actions violated civil statutes governing independent expenditures, and directed Montgomery's office to initiate an enforcement action pursuant to its statutory authority.
In August, Montgomery initiated a separate civil enforcement action against the Committee for Justice and Fairness, an independent expenditure committee that paid for commercials advocating against Horne's candidacy for attorney general and that failed to register with the Secretary of State's Office.
A spokeswoman for Horne told the Republic late Thursday that the attorney general did not want to comment on Rea's ruling, but added that the judge's decision "speaks for itself."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.