Joel Fox, Arpaio's 2008 Election Patsy, Loses Lawsuit Against Cox Communications Over Release of Mushy "Zorro" Emails
Joel Fox, a former captain under Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has lost his lawsuit against Cox Communications over the release of embarrassing emails related to a defunct criminal investigation.
Fox lost his job in late 2011 as part of the fallout of what we call the "SCA Scandal" -- a scheme to violate campaign laws in order to benefit Arpaio's 2008 election. We're pretty sure Arpaio knew all about the alleged law-breaking, but no one's been able to prove it. Two of Arpaio's closest aides, former chief deputy Dave Hendershott and former deputy chief Larry Black, also lost their jobs in large part because of the scandal.
In a nutshell, Hendershott, Black and Fox -- along with top state Republican leaders -- were alleged to have broken state election laws by tapping wealthy corporate investors and sheriff's employees for a secret slush fund later used for a controversial smear ad against Arpaio's '08 Democratic opponent, Dan Saban. Under the supervision of Hendershott, who was under Arpaio's supervision, Black and Fox reportedly coordinated the "Sheriff's Command Association" slush fund and subsequent ad.
No one was prosecuted, but careers and reputations were tarnished. In particular, Black and Fox were embarrassed when a state search warrant turned up emails in which the pair professed their "love" for each other.
As we suggested in an April 2011 feature article about the SCA scandal, it looks as though Fox's refusal to name the contributors to the slush fund was in large part done to protect the man he loved, Black.
On the same day that New Times published excerpts of the emails, Fox filed a federal lawsuit against former state Attorney General Terry Goddard, state investigators and Cox Communications.
Fox claimed that a search warrant issued by the state should only have produced emails from his primary email account. Instead, the state requested emails from secondary accounts, including one with the colorful name of "firstname.lastname@example.org."
Here's a couple of the email excerpts, as pulled from the March 30, 2011 article that got Fox worked up enough to file a lawsuit:
"Now say, for example, (and I know this is not true), the bible said to stop loving you, then I would NOT stop loving you," Joel Fox wrote in a lengthy e-mail to Larry Black on August 4, 2007, at 10:32 p.m. "So my love for you is more important to me than the Bible. And if you punched me in the mouth and knocked me down, I would get back up and chase after you to find out why. Because my love for you is more important than my pride. This is also why I don't care what people say about us." Fox's love did not go unrequited.
"Even though we are thousands of miles away, I can hear you talking in my heart and your message is crystal clear," Black wrote to Fox in October of 2007. "I love you, dear friend, stay safe and you are in my thoughts ... always. Talk to you sooner still!!! I am getting excited for you to get back. (Not wanting to see your vacation end...) but you know what I mean."
U.S. District Judge Neil Wake tossed out Fox's lawsuit against Goddard and the state investigators way back in August of 2011, noting that the state had every right to issue the search warrant.
In July of this year, Cox Communications lawyer Mark Hummels filed a 17-page motion for summary judgment in the case, arguing that a Cox employee merely complied with the search warrant when she dug up the "Zorro" emails in addition to other emails under Fox's primary account. Cox also argued that Wake should dismiss the case for the same reason he dismissed the case against Goddard -- because the search warrant was issued legitimately.
Hummels' motion notes that, "As Judge Wake concluded in the related Fox/Goddard case, 'A person acting in good faith reliance on the email warrant could conclude that review of the information provided by Cox Communications, including the information of multiple user names associated with the 'J_Fox@cox.net' account, fell within the scope of the email warrant.'"
Hummels also points out that Fox claims he was damaged by the emails reprinted in New Times, which, according to Fox, "strongly suggested a homosexual relationship" between Fox and Black. But those emails were discovered from a computer found at Fox's home under the authority of a separate warrant -- the emails weren't just on Cox's servers.
The Cox motion includes one of our favorite emails from Fox to Black: "And, yes, I am smart enough to use a personal computer to send emails from, so there is no record, other than my own computer, which doesn't really exist."
U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee, in an order on the motion from earlier this month, says Fox's arguments are without merit. Fox offered no evidence that the Cox employee "did not act with a subjective good faith belief that she was acting lawfully" on the warrant," McNamee wrote. "(Fox) offers no evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact suitable for a jury on any issue."
With that, he granted summary judgment to Cox.
It was just one of a series of failures in the legal arena that Fox has endured. Back in September, he lost the appeal of his firing from the sheriff's office. In 2009, he lost his bid to keep the SCA names secret.
One of the best pieces of news Fox has heard in the last four years was when the Arizona U.S. Attorney decided not to prosecute him, Arpaio or other sheriff's office employees.
Still, Fox remains unemployed by the sheriff's office while Arpaio -- the guy most responsible for Fox's fall, the man who could have stopped Hendershott, Black and Fox while their SCA plan was in its beginning stages -- was re-elected in November to another four years in office.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.