Cox Communications has agreed to try and settle a lawsuit launched by Captain Joel Fox of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office over the release of his "love letter" e-mails.
Fox filed the federal complaint against Cox on the same day that New Times published excerpts from the emotional expressions of man-love between him and his supervisor, one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's now-fired top aides, Larry Black. At the same time, Fox filed a similar, but separate complaint in federal court against former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and three AG's office employees.
Both Fox and Black are key figures in the "SCA" campaign-finance violation scandal once probed by criminal investigators at the state Attorney General's Office -- and now being reviewed by the feds. We explored the sordid case thoroughly in our April 14 feature article, Love Connection.
Fox's lawsuits allege that Cox Communications released too much info to the investigators, who in turn should not have released the e-mails to the public.
Following an internal investigation conducted by Arpaio's political ally, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Black was fired by Sheriff Joe Arpaio along with Arpaio's former right-hand man, Dave Hendershott. Black also seems to have lost his lucrative position as director of security for the Phoenix International Raceway.
Fox, however, remains employed with MCSO pending disciplinary proceedings.
No dollar amount is mentioned in Monday's court order authorizing the settlement negotiation. But Fox could consider it a victory, of sorts, if he gets enough cash out of Cox's deep pockets. We're awaiting (likely in vain) a callback from Cox's local attorney, David Rosenbaum. The parties have two weeks to set a settlement hearing date.
Whether the possible settlement means Fox's arguments had merit is another story.
On July 7, court records show, U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dismissed Fox's lawsuit on the e-mail matter against the three AG's office employees. Those employees are: Todd Lawson, an assistant attorney general under both Goddard and the new AG, Tom Horne; Donald Conrad, former chief counsel for Goddard's criminal division, (no longer employed by the AG's office); and Michael Edwards, a veteran investigator and special agent supervisor still with the office.
Each of the three had filed a motion to dismiss the case against them back in March. Judge Wake agreed with their motions that valid probable cause existed for a search warrant served on Fox's Cox account in connection with the state's criminal investigation, which gives them legal immunity in the civil suit.
Fox, who's representing himself in the cases, could appeal the ruling -- and knowing him, we expect such a move. He didn't return a call for comment.
Assuming no bumps in the road for the Cox/Fox settlement, this leaves only the Fox case against Goddard still moving forward. We're not sure why Goddard's Tempe lawyer, William Richards, didn't jump on the trio's motion to dismiss -- we left a message for Richards, too.
In the near future, you'll hear a lot more about the SCA scandal that has been plaguing Arpaio since October of 2008.
Due to the disciplinary proceedings against Captain Fox, about a third of the 1,022-page Babeu report on Arpaio's white-washed internal investigation remains blacked out. The material in the report and thousands of pages of supplemental documents relating to Babeu's probe of the SCA matter is being held back, for now.
But last month, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Sam Myers ordered that the entire report must be released to the public no later than 30 days after Fox exhausts all of his appeals to keep his job.
That release -- whenever it comes -- should provide a bounty of new details for SCA observers.
Still, we're not optimistic that it'll answer the most crucial question in the case: Did Arpaio know what his henchmen were doing?
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Click here for a copy of the July 7 order dismissing the Fox case against Lawson, Conrad and Edwards.
UPDATE July 21: A day after this blog post was published, Cox spokesman Michael Dunne wrote to clarify that although settlement negotiations are pending, the company has not yet "agreed to settle" as we wrote. Though the original post mentioned that the date of the settlement meeting has not yet been set, we've made a few minor changes for accuracy's sake.