Maricopa County Craziness

Federal Lawsuit Against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Former County Attorney Andrew Thomas to Proceed; No Immunity, Judge Rules

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas were blasted in a court ruling on Monday, the day before Thomas found himself disbarred.

As we pointed out earlier today, the 247-page opinion by the state Supreme Court panel that disbarred Thomas made it clear that Arpaio had collaborated with Thomas to abuse the rights of their political enemies.

Yesterday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake is another bombshell. Wake, in ruling to keep lawsuits by current and former county officials afloat, describes the actions of lawmen and their trusted aides who cast aside basic legal scruples.

The ruling also seems to explain the recent settlements by the county for some of those who sued.

Scroll down for Wake's ruling.

First, here's list of the plaintiffs and defendants in the consolidated lawsuit who are suing Arpaio, Thomas and Maricopa County (leaving out the spouses' names, which you can see if you click on the link below, anyway):


Gary Donahoe, retired Superior Court judge

Susan Schuerman, County Supervisor Don Stapley's executive assistant

Sandi Wilson, deputy county manager

Conley Wolfswinkel, developer, et al

County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox

County Supervisor Don Stapley

Barbara Mundell, retired Superior Court judge


Joe Arpaio, sheriff

Andrew Thomas, former County Attorney who was stripped of his law license

Dave Hendershott, former chief deputy and right-hand man of Sheriff Arpaio's

Peter Spaw, deputy county attorney

Maricopa County, the government entity

Arpaio, Thomas, and the defendants had wanted to dismiss the consolidated lawsuit for a variety of reasons, including the idea that they enjoyed immunity. Their argument boils down to the claim that they were just law enforcement officials doing an honest job fighting what they perceived as corruption.

Wake questions that notion before denying various motions to dismiss by Arpaio and Thomas. In the densely worded, well-researched, 79-page ruling, Wake outlines his reasons for allowing the various claims in the case, including malicious prosecution, abuse of process, wrongful institution of government of civil proceedings and defamation, to proceed.

The ruling labels the 2009 federal racketeering lawsuit against county officials, judges and lawyers by Arpaio and Thomas as "patently frivolous." Arpaio, Thomas and their aides weren't acting as true law officers when they filed that RICO suit, so they aren't immune from civil actions arising from it, Wake wrote.

Each of the plaintiffs' several claims, which often overlap, are examined. For example, Wilson and Donahoe both claimed "abuse of process." Wake dismisses that claim for Wilson because it's too similar to her claim of malicious prosecution, which he is allowing to proceed. But Wake says Donahoe has more than a fair claim of abuse of process:

...To the extent Donahoe is alleging abuse of process for Defendants' actions related to hiring a process server to serve Donahoe with the federal RICO suit, whom they knew or should have known had been previously prosecuted for threatening to kill Donahoe, this is quintessentially the type of allegation that supports a claim for abuse of process.

The defenses of Arpaio and Thomas are also frowned upon by Wake on the defamation claims by Mundell, Donahoe, Schuerman and Wilson. The negative claims about the judges and county employees by Arpaio and Thomas were not "merely opinion," Wake ruled. Because the alleged facts were often distributed to the public in the form of news releases, and because the releases came from the highest authorities in county law enforcement, "the Court concludes that an average person could see the allegedly
defamatory statements as implying facts."

As mentioned, the county has already settled with some of the folks from this consolidated lawsuit. Arpaio, Thomas and other defendants may still be on the hook.

Thomas, of course, no longer can practice law -- but if this lawsuit against him and the other defendants keeps up, he'll soon be in need of money.

Click here to read Judge Neil Wake's order in the lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio and Andrew Thomas

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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.

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