Dave Hendershott, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's right-hand man, may have improperly tried to influence county Superior Court staff in the case against Supervisor Don Stapley, a letter sent to Hendershott today from the court's attorney states.
The accusation comes as part of an ongoing squabble over a request for the e-mails of of judges and court staff made by the Sheriff's Office last year. There's apparently no criminal matter at hand -- the MCSO simply appears to be trying to dig up dirt on the court staff it can use for political purposes.
To make a long story short, (you can read the back-and-forth letters between the Sheriff's Office and court), the court administrator, Marc Reinkensmeyer, was scheduled to meet for coffee with Hendershott last week.
Then the story about Don Stapley broke. And on the heels of that, a story that broke on Channel 15 (KNXV) revealed that the court had brought in retired Judge Kenneth Fields to hear the Stapley case. As Channel 15 reported, Fields was an outspoken opponent of County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
The case was already developing serious political overtones, with the county Board Supervisors mulling whether it should allow Thomas to continue as the board's civil attorney while prosecuting one of its members, and Thomas declaring the board could not make that decision. Later, Thomas filed a motion to have Fields removed from the case.
Allowing Fields to preside over the Stapley case looked "really bad," Hendershott allegedly told Reinkensmeyer last week. Making reference to the Channel 15 story, Hendershott stated "the fix was in." He claimed the developments made obtaining the court staff's e-mails even more important, and he threatened a lawsuit against the court by December 8 if he didn't get the material.
The court letter claims Hendershott's allegations are baseless and "may also constitute an attempt to make improper ex parte contact with the court to exert pressure on the presiding judge to remove Judge Fields from the case."
Karen Westover, the court's general counsel, also writes that Hendershott must refrain from making any potentially improper contacts with court staff in the future. As for the lawsuit, the court "is ready to defend" its decision to withhold the records. -- Ray Stern