Maricopa County Craziness

Don Stapley Claim Vs. County Could be Settled by Board of Supervisors; County Leaders Mum on Possibility


Image: Ray Stern
It seems likely that Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, (seen here with husband, Earl, and attorney Colin Campbell), will file a claim against the county like Don Stapley did last week.

The malicious prosecution claim filed against Maricopa County by Don Stapley, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, could become a civics lesson in checks without balances.

As Tom Irvine, a lawyer for the Supervisors, pointed out in 2008, the Supes have the legal right to settle any lawsuit filed against the county.

Sure, Stapley would probably recuse himself in any matter pertaining to his own claim against the Board, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

But it seems almost certain that Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox will follow Stapley's lead with a similar claim of her own. (It was a ruling in Wilcox's case that led to the dismissal of criminal charges against her and Stapley).

This brings up some interesting ethical questions:

Would Wilcox recuse herself from voting on the Stapley claim? If not, will she vote to pay Stapley, with the understanding that when it's her turn, Stapley will vote to pay her?

If the three other Supervisors -- who were all named in the now-defunct RICO lawsuit filed against them Thomas and Arpaio -- vote for a settlement for Stapley or Wilcox, should that prevent them from filing claims of their own in the future?

What about claims by others who were targeted by Thomas and Arpaio, such as Judge Gary Donahoe? Donahoe, as we note in another blog post today, is apparently preparing his own claim against the county. Would it be a conflict of interest for county leaders named in the dead RICO lawsuit to pay off a judge who was targeted along with them?

Speaking of conflicts of interest -- does it matter that Merwin Grant, the lawyer helping Stapley sue the county, is the Stapley-appointed president of the county's Industrial Development Authority, an agency that helps decide where to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money?

County Manager David Smith wouldn't return New Times call for this article, but he told county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick he didn't believe Grant's position on the Authority was a conflict of interest.

Wade Swanson, director of general litigation for Maricopa County, also declined comment for this article.

Gerchick tells New Times that a process for dealing with Stapley's claim (and similar potential claims, like the one expected by Wilcox), is being designed to face full public scrutiny.

"We are so aware of the spotlight on this issue and the potential for the appearance of impropriety," Gerchick says.

Then again, if the county leaders do something improper, it's not clear if anyone would hold them accountable. Thomas and Arpaio sure won't do anything about it -- they've been marginalized when it comes to fighting public corruption, and for good reason.

Any complaints against the way the Supervisors handle claims by their own members will have to be addressed in the ballot box.

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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.