Hendershott Could End Up in Jail Next Week in Showdown Over Password

Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott could end up behind bars next week. We're not kidding.

If you followed our earlier play-by-play from the court hearing this afternoon about the Great Computer Takeover, (and we won't be offended if you didn't), you'll have anticipated our headline.

The sometimes-jocular Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Heilman didn't seem to be fooling around: Near the conclusion of today's hearing, he said he wants the Sheriff's Office to turn over the computer system's administrative password to IT guru Tom Gendron by Wednesday.

Hendershott, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's top administrator, huddled for a few seconds with the two lawyers for Arpaio. Then Kerry Martin, the lead lawyer, told the judge his client was "unable" to give the password to Gendron.

That rankled the judge, who said whoever violated his order would be held in contempt. After a few more affairs were put in order, Heilman ended the hearing by again warning that if the password wasn't divulged, "someone" was going to be held in contempt. To hammer home his point, he looked at Arpaio's team and said it would likely be someone sitting at that table.

That was just one of the bizarro things that happened at the hearing. Some others:

* Gendron, the guy who built the ICJIS system, told the judge it would be "convenient" to have the password, but that he didn't really need it. He also testified that he was the person contacted by the Sheriff's Office when civilian personnel and deputies took over the system, and though he was "asked" not to interfere, nobody threatened him with any consequences if he did interfere. That seemed to contradict earlier reports that someone had been threatened with arrest.

* The judge ordered a meeting to be held next week between representatives of the five government entities that have a stake in the system -- yet no one seemed to know who those representatives were or exactly what would be discussed.

*  Heilman was hell-bent on coming to some sort of resolution by his 4:30 deadline, and left little -- and we mean little -- time for Arpaio's side. Then Arpaio's lawyer spent almost all of his remaining time arguing that Heilman was being unfair.

After the hearing, Hendershott told us that federal regulations prevent him from turning over the password to a civilian administrator like Gendron.

"The issue here is the security of the system," he says.

So he's going to jail either way? we quipped. Hendershott had to agree. But he says he'll make sure he gets a nice cell with a "good view of the dump."

Somehow, we think Hendershott will stay out of jail. After all, the Gendron doesn't really need the password, so there's no harm in giving it to him -- the feds probably don't really care, and Hendershott probably knows that.

There were a few other interesting things we need to digest from this hearing, like the involvement of Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell.

Hendershott says a criminal investigation regarding her and other county officials is going on related to the very things discussed at the hearing. He didn't go into many specifics. But he did say he had questions about a half-million-dollar "donation" to the county from a computer company.

This story, as they say, has legs.

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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.