You can file this one under "WTF??!?!"
Turns out Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's favorite law firm, which specializes in employment law, was brought in to help with both the crappy racketeering lawsuit Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas filed against county officials last year -- and the federal grand jury now looking into Arpaio and Thomas as well.
And the taxpayers are footing the bill for Ogletree Deakins' involvement in both cases, records show.
Here's the deal.
In December 2009, County Attorney Thomas filed a racketeering lawsuit, accusing county officials, judges, and their lawyers of being part of a broadly defined "criminal enterprise." The suit drew consternation -- and even laughter -- from experienced lawyers, and Thomas withdrew it a few months later, without proving a single one of its allegations.
Records obtained by New Times on Wednesday show that Thomas's office had a bit of help with the suit.
On December 21, three weeks after the suit was filed, Thomas hired the law firm Ogletree Deakins to assist with the lawsuit, records show.
And while that firm had become the favored private counselors of both Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it specializes in employment law -- not rackeeteering statutes, which are incredibly complex.
The firm assisted with the racketeering suit from December 21 to January 6, according to records. That period coincides with a period of intense activity on the matter in question. After Thomas filed the initial lawsuit December 1, defense attorneys for the dozen named county officials quickly struck back with detailed -- and compelling -- arguments for its dismissal. Thomas' office ultimately filed an amended complaint January 14, attempting to restate its original claims and buy time.
But even that didn't do much to help the county attorney's case. Judge Murray Snow rejected the amended complaint, saying Thomas' office had missed a procedural deadline. Forced to defend the initial claim, and facing a strong possibility of outright dismissal, Thomas withdrew the suit.
In its letter confirming Ogletree's hire, the county attorney's office asked the firm to report to Rachel Alexander, the deputy county attorney assigned to the case after the initial filing. Which leaves us wondering: Is Alexander to blame for missing the deadline for the amended complaint? Or was it the fault of the handsomely paid lawyers at Ogletree?
One thing is clear: The firm wasn't taken off the case due to any unhappiness on the county attorney's part.
Just two days after the firm was taken off the RICO case, Thomas' office assigned it to help the sheriff's office deal with a potentially more explosive matter -- the grand jury investigation focused on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's abuse of power.
"As part of this advisory representation, your firm or any other advisory counsel you retain may be expected to accompany witnesses to the grand jury, handle requests for records, file pleadings, or participate in any other matter that represents the organizational interests of the MCSO," wrote Chief Assistant County Attorney Sally Wells.
Naturally, we find it funny that the sheriff/county attorney would retain an employment law firm for a criminal matter. But, more importantly, we have to wonder if the hiring was proper. After all, county policy says that the taxpayers will only hire legal counsel for employees who are witnesses to a grand jury -- not targets.
The sheriff's office is indisputably a target in this grand jury investigation.
Furthermore, in her letter, Wells told Ogletree to report to the sheriff's chief deputy, David Hendershott. Hendershott is believed to also be a person of interest or target of the investigation, not merely a "witness."
So is the county paying for lawyers to advise Hendershott? What about Arpaio?
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We simply don't know. But records show that Ogletree Deakins has been paid $2.4 million to represent Arpaio and Thomas from January 2009 to date.
We asked the spokesman for the new county attorney, Bill Fitzgerald, about all this. We asked if County Attorney Rick Romley -- an Arpaio opponent who's now replaced Thomas -- had concerns about these contracts, which his office is tasked with supervising.
Fitzgerald said the office had no comment at this time.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, Lisa Allen, didn't return our call for comment.