Maria Brandon, Fired Maricopa Civil Attorney, Says County Retaliated Against Her for Defending Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County leaders retaliated against a county civil attorney for providing Sheriff Joe Arpaio legal help and for voicing her opinion to a newspaper, the woman claims in a lawsuit.
Maria Brandon, a veteran deputy county attorney until her termination in June of 2011, says that her civil rights were violated, she was defamed and that county employees were not properly trained. Besides going after the county in general, her lawsuit names Tom Liddy, deputy county attorney and son of Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, and County Risk Manager Rocky Armfield as defendants.
The suit, (see below for complete text), gives an inside look -- albeit a one-sided one -- into how the fight between county leaders, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas affected the lower ranks at the County Attorney's Office.
She describes county leaders rewarding Arpaio protesters, (unfairly, in her view), being yelled at by a two-faced Liddy, grabbed by another employee, having her pay slashed and finally being fired, all because she was doing her job.
The arrests of these four demonstrators -- Jason Odhner, Kristy Theilen, Monica Sandschafer, and Joel Nelson -- helped spur an internal feud at the County Attorney's Office, Maria Brandon's lawsuit states.
Brandon incurred the wrath of county officials after becoming the county-employed legal counsel for the Sheriff's Office in 2009.
It was a time of extreme turmoil in the county, with a feud raging between county leadership on one side and Arpaio and his ally, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Thomas and Arpaio were pursuing Supervisor Don Stapley with trumped-criminal charges that would later be dismissed.
The five-members of the Board of Supervisors, worried that their lawyer, Thomas, was plotting against them, used their power to strip Thomas of his office's civil litigation division. They set up two new departments under the control of County Manager David Smith to handle civil cases against the county.
One of those departments was in charge of defending Arpaio's office, and Brandon -- an employee of the county attorney's office since 1986, found herself working there. It's unclear whether she volunteered for the assignment or accidentally fell into it; Brandon did not return a call. Her lawyer, Larry Cohen, declined comment on the case.
Brandon touts in her lawsuit how she won one excessive-force complaint against the Sheriff's Office in 2010, and kept the jury award in another to $1.
In 2010, Brandon was working on the claims filed by demonstrators who'd been arrested by Arpaio's deputies in December of 2008. The seven people had been protesting the Board of Supervisors for its alleged support of Arpaio in two separate incidents -- one in which they clapped at a Board meeting, and another in which four people wore animal costumes to the Board's executive offices.
Brandon wanted to offer a settlement of $7,500 for each of the protestors who had sued.
But Rocky Armfield, County Risk Manager, told them he had received authorization to pay each protester up to $100,000, the suit states. The protesters later received a total of $475,000 in settlements.
Brandon complained about the deal in a July 9, 2010, Arizona Republic article. She also argued with Armfield on esoteric matters. The result was that she and two other deputy county attorneys in her division were denied cases to work.
Bill Montgomery was elected County Attorney in November of 2010 and began negotiating for the return of the civil attorneys who'd been working under David Smith. That happened in April of 2011, after a court decision resulted in the closing of the county's two civil-litigation departments.
Brandon states that she and two other deputy county attorneys who had been working on Arpaio cases had their pay reduced and were put on probation.
Liddy told her that Armfield and Sandi Wilson, deputy county manager, wanted her fired for her quotes in the Republic article. Wilson also allegedly wanted Brandon fired for her work in 1998 on a county health-care case.
"Liddy likened the atmosphere to the post-Civil War, Reconstruction period when there were lynchings," Brandon's suit states.
If Liddy had seemed to be an ally, he soon turned on her, the suit suggests.
"When Brandon protested this treatment, Liddy lost his temper and started yelling at her in a booming voice," Brandon claims.
Maria Brandon claims that Sandi Wilson, (above), deputy county manager, wanted her fired in part because of her statements defending Arpaio in a newspaper.
The suit goes on to say that on June 8, 2011:
The feuding-retaliatory atmosphere created by (the defendants) enabled a support staff employee to feel sufficiently empowered to physically grab Plaintiff's upper arm and yell abusively at her while pointing her finger in Plaintiff's face.
Liddy, Brandon's supervisor, wasn't around that day, so she complained to Doug Irish, head of the new civil services division under Montgomery.
The unnamed employee who "assaulted" Brandon was suspended for five days without pay. But Liddy was reportedly furious for going to Irish:
He said when he returned to the office he got a call from Bill Montgomery, and Montgomery said, "What the hell is going on down there?" Liddy was upset about the way it looked to Montgomery because he was out of the office at the time the incident occurred.
Two days after the incident, Liddy fired Brandon from her $134,000-a-year job.
Brandon adds in her suit that Liddy later "warned" other employees not to "go around him to Doug Irish" and "told his staff lies about Brandon."
She's seeking general and punitive damages, plus attorneys' fees.
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