In an overt act of intimidation reminiscent of his predecessor -- disbarred, disgraced political pariah Andy Thomas -- Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has moved to silence county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox in all matters concerning Melendres v. Arpaio before the Board of Supervisors.
In a letter dated June 6, Montgomery warns Wilcox that she has a conflict of interest in the ACLU's racial profiling lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, which was recently ruled on by U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow.
Snow found that the sheriff's office had engaged in discriminatory policing against Latinos and ordered the MCSO to stop, setting a June 14 hearing for a discussion of how to proceed.
Arpaio's lawyer Tim Casey has indicated that an appeal is in the works, and both Casey and Deputy County Attorney Tom Liddy apparently have met with the Board of Supervisors in executive session, advising them on the case.
Wilcox, the only Democrat, the only woman, and the only Hispanic on the five-member board, is already on the record as being opposed to any funding of an appeal in Melendres by the BOS.
But Montgomery's letter advises Wilcox that she must "refrain from taking part in any further discussions or voting on any issues related to the Melendres lawsuit and/or any possible appeal of the decision."
The missive cites Arizona conflict of interest law, claiming Wilcox has a pecuniary interest in the outcome of Melendres because the settlement of her lawsuit against Arpaio and the county, already approved by the district court, has been appealed by Montgomery to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, at substantial cost to taxpayers, who will have to foot the bill for interest on the nearly $1 million agreement when the high court inevitably upholds the settlement.
Should Wilcox not adhere to Monty's orders, she could be prosecuted under state statute for a class six felony or a class one misdemeanor. If found guilty, she could be forced to forfeit her office..
Ironically, Andy Thomas brought felony conflict of interest charges against Wilcox in 2009 in retaliation for her outspoken stance against Thomas and Arpaio.
Wilcox slugged back Wednesday afternoon, announcing a legal action against Montgomery in a news conference that included her attorneys from Osborn Maledon, one of them being Colin Campbell, who led the press conference back in 2009 decrying Thomas' charges.
Campbell pointed out that Wilcox's claim against the county overlapped with the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against the MCSO. Wilcox has recused herself from discussing the DOJ case, which is much broader than Melendres and includes allegations of abuse of power, like Arpaio's intimidation of Wilcox.
But Wilcox's case does not conflict with Melendres. In fact, Wilcox has been involved with Melendres since the beginning.
"She participated in decision-making by the Board of Supervisors in respect to the Melendres case," Campbell said of his client. "And that has been ongoing from before the retaliation [which is the basis of Wilcox's lawsuit], during the retaliation and after the retaliation.
"Now that Judge Snow has ruled in the case, she has received a letter from the county attorney alleging that she has a conflict of interest. Which we believe to be unfounded and untrue."
Campbell said he and his co-counsel Kathleen O'Meara were seeking expedited consideration of the complaint in county superior court. This, in hopes of a resolution before the next discussion of Melendres in a BOS meeting.
Melendres could be discussed again in executive session as early as Monday.
Members of the Latino community rallied around Wilcox at the press event, held at her restaurant El Portal, where they denounced Montgomery's Thomas-like tactics.
"This is a continuation of the harassment that Andrew Thomas [and Sheriff Arpaio] started against Mary Rose Wilcox," declared human rights activist Sal Reza. "They're trying to sideline her, get her out of the way, because she's an outspoken person against the abuses against migrants."
Carlos Garcia of the civil rights group Puente agreed.
"As someone who is represented by her, we want our voices heard in this discussion," Garcia stated. "If anyone has a conflict of interest, it's Bill Montgomery, a person [with whom] Arpaio is going after our community."
Truly, like Thomas was in his day, Montgomery is a tool of Arpaio, an ally whom Arpaio can count on to do his bidding when necessary.
Wednesday morning, having heard a rumor that Monty had pulled this move, I asked him if he had advised any member of the BOS that they had a conflict on Melendres.
Montgomery declined to comment due to "attorney/client privilege."
How many attorneys threaten, even indirectly, to have their clients prosecuted?
It's a line Thomas crossed back in the day, acting as the BOS's lawyer while simultaneously pursuing some supervisors criminally.
Also at his Wednesday morning press event, Montgomery seemed to signal that an appeal was in the offing, making a statement at the beginning of his press conference that sounded like classic CYA spin.
"Appealing that case on legal grounds...is not an equivalent of accepting or approving the basic concepts of racial profiling and discriminatory policing," Montgomery asserted. "There's no relationship between the two, and it's simply legally inaccurate to try to associate the two."
Why say something like that if you do not intend to appeal?
Monty denied that he had made any decision on what to tell the BOS regarding Melendres, and stated that the BOS may have to take up the issue of "additional resources" for the suit.
"There's a hybrid there," he said. "Because the county's not a party to the suit. That obviously...impacts one area of the board's statutory duties that is under review.
"The fact that it could require additional resources, addresses a different area of the board's authority. So regardless of what a final opinion might be, there may still be a role for the board to take a look at that. But I haven't finalized the advice to give them."
After the Wilcox press conference, I asked the supervisor why she thought Montgomery would move to gag her, when she was so outnumbered on the BOS.
She said she believed it was because she knew a lot about Melendres, and so might be able to influence the three new board members.
And what would happen if she refused to leave the next session where Melendres was to be discussed?
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"There was a threat in that letter," she told me. "It was, `If you don't conflict [yourself out], I have the grounds to arrest you.' He knows that, but I think he didn't think I'd protest it."
Shutting up Supervisor Wilcox is something Arpaio and his allies in county government have been trying to do for years, mainly because, when it comes to their machinations, she's often right.
"Montgomery thinks he can come up with an idea so that they can appeal and not look racist," she stated, spot on.
And he doesn't want Supervisor Wilcox standing in his way.