Joe Arpaio, Andy Thomas Possibly Liable for Millions in Lawsuit Payouts?

Arpaio may have to bust out the piggy bank and pay his own legal tab for a change
Arpaio may have to bust out the piggy bank and pay his own legal tab for a change

Maricopa County has put Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas on notice that they may have to pay legal costs and possible settlements or awards arising out of ten different lawsuits, if they have violated any laws or acted wrongfully in those cases.

In a letter approved by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, County Risk Manager Peter Crowley informs Arpaio, Thomas and Thomas' embattled henchwoman, ex-prosecutor Lisa Aubuchon, that the county's insurance trust fund will not be a blank check for misconduct.

The letter states that though "the Trust provides coverage for many liability claims brought against Maricopa County and its elected officials, officers, and other employees," there are also "certain exclusions from coverage."

Among these exclusions are coverage for any "loss, costs, claims, litigation expenses or other expenses," arising from violations of state or federal criminal codes, or expenses "arising from intentional and willful/wrongful acts."

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You can read the entire letter for yourself, here.

Potentially, this letter could put Arpaio, Thomas and Aubuchon on the hook for millions in payouts and legal expenses. The ten notices of claim cited in the letter include those of Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley. 

Wilcox is asking for $4.75 million for vindictive prosecution and other matters. Stapley's demanding $5 million for malicious prosecution and false arrest.

In the past, Arpaio's never had to worry about digging into his own pocket to pick up the legal tab when he's been sued. See, the county is self-insured through a trust fund that pays such expenses and any awards or settlements. In other words, county taxpayers ultimately foot the bill.

Now things could be different, particularly as Arpaio and the MCSO are being investigated by a federal grand jury. Similarly, my colleagues Paul Rubin and Sarah Fenske reported in May that the feds may be interested in Thomas and Aubuchon for possible federal abuse of power charges.

Other news outlets have reported that the FBI is investigating Thomas. Aubuchon is on paid administrative leave from the county attorney's office and is reportedly under investigation by the MCAO.

"We're trying to minimize taxpayer risk," explained county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick of the letter. "Certainly the taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for any potential illegal, wrongful or inappropriate activity."

The Crowley letter also fires a shot across Arpaio's bow regarding the sheriff's very public disapproval of the county's plan to bring in nationally known mediator Kenneth Feinberg to help settle the claims. Arpaio's stated that he doesn't want to settle, and is demanding to go to court.

Crowley quotes a section of the trust's language, highlighting parts in bold, stating that those individuals covered by the county's trust "shall cooperate fully" with the administrator, and that "the failure of a covered party to fully cooperate in the administration, investigation and defense of any claim shall result in the loss of coverage..."

There's also a nice little dig at the end, which seems to address Arpaio's decision to hire ex-Georgia Congressman Bob Barr to work on his behalf, albeit without county approval.

Crowley writes, "You certainly may retain...personal counsel, but neither the Trust nor Maricopa County will indemnify you or otherwise pay for any costs or attorneys' fees incurred as a result..."

Arpaio possibly having to pay his own attorneys' fees? My, but the times they are a changin'.

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