County Attorney's Office Feeling Bamboozled by County on Planned Expansion of Civil Lawsuit Department


Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office has withdrawn a court demand to stop county leaders from setting up their own civil lawsuit department. That much you knew, if you read yesterday's blog post on the subject.

We later learned, thanks to an irate phone call last night by Thomas' special assistant, Barnett Lotstein, that there was a bit more to the story. Lotstein, who was irked (somewhat rightfully) that we didn't call him before publishing a statement by County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox about the issue, told us that Thomas had a good reason for dropping the demand for the county to immediately halt its work setting up the new department:

A top county official had assured Thomas' office that no more work would be done on the department until the entire lawsuit was settled, Lotstein said. That made the request for a preliminary injunction to stop the county's actions unnecessary, he said. 

Lotstein called Wilcox "duplicitous" for saying that yesterday's ruling by Judge Donald Daughton cleared the way for the department's expansion. The ruling does no such thing, Lotstein said, and Thomas' office may re-request a hearing on the matter if the county moves to hire people for the department. 

According to the May 8 motion by Thomas, the county assured Thomas that no move would be made to raid civil attorneys from his office or "further expand their private law department presently comprised of two attorneys." The motion went on to state:

As Defendants have all but eliminated the further advances of their illegal conduct and because the most deleterious consequences have subsided (for the moment), Plaintiff withdraws his application for a preliminary injunction...

The move also vacated a hearing planned for Thursday on the matter.

As evidence for his side of the argument, Lotstein provided New Times with several pages from the recent deposition of Sandi Wilson, deputy county manager:

Q. Okay. So the Civil Litigation Department does not plan to hire any further employees...

Wilson: The General Litigation Department.

Q. I'm sorry.

Wilson: Yeah, yes sir. Not at this point.

Q. At least until there is a ruling by the Superior Court on the legality of the department, or the Board [of Supervisors] setting up the department?

Wilson: We were hoping for a ruling before we would move forward, yes, sir.


Yet, we have to wonder if Wilcox's analysis about Thomas' motives for withdrawing the injunction demand is more accurate: Now, in order to prevent suffering another defeat, Thomas has instructed his lawyers to drop his request for an injunction. Thomas did so after weeks of time-consuming and expensive discovery in preparation for the hearing, and just three days before the hearing was to commence.

Common sense dictates that if Thomas had truly believed his injunction request would be approved, he wouldn't have dropped it. We asked Lotstein about this, who replied that Thomas was just being efficient. If the county wasn't following through on plans to build up the new department, he reasoned, then the court didn't need to do anything.

"You don't ask for things that are frivolous and a waste of time," Lotstein says. "We took Sandi Wilson at face value."

But that brings up another cynical question: Why would Thomas' office trust Sandi Wilson -- after all, Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office stated in a memo that Wilson is among the county leaders under criminal investigation.

Lotstein says that investigation, if it exists, is being handled only by the sheriff's office. Wilson's credibility, in general, has never been thrown in doubt by Thomas, he said.

"We had every right to rely on her testimony," he said.

Time will soon tell what the county -- and the court system -- has in store for this new department.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.