We knew Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was desperate to read e-mails penned by judges and court staffers.
But even we had no idea he was this desperate.
According to documents obtained by New Times, Arpaio has actually agreed to pay Washington, D.C., attorney Carter G. Phillips $990 -- per hour -- for his legal work in this fight.
And Phillips' fee -- unbelievable as it sounds -- actually represents a small discount. According to the engagement letter submitted by Phillips' firm, D.C.-based Sidley Austin, Phillips normally charges $1,100 per hour.
For that kind of fee, you'd surely expect Phillips to get results.
We first got interested in Phillips' fee last fall, when we learned that Arpaio had brought him on pro hac vice (which basically means as an out-of-state lawyer) to file a special action on the sheriff's records dispute with the appellate court. Arpaio, of course, has been dying to read e-mails and other internal documents written by court staff. But both the superior and appellate courts had ruled that the sort of work product generated by judges -- despite Arpaio's intense interest -- simply isn't public record under state law.
Matters of law, though, rarely stop Sheriff Joe or his cohort County Attorney Andrew Thomas. They'd prefer to hire expensive firms to tilt at windmills for them than to accept a loss.
Just witness Thomas' hiring of another pricey D.C. firm, Jones Day. As we reported here, they managed to ring up bills of nearly half-a-million dollars on Thomas' silly fight against Spanish-language DUI probation services -- even while losing at every stop.
As for Phillips, he has a resume. He was a law clerk to former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. He's argued 56 cases before the highest court in the land.
But on this dog of a case, he had no luck whatsoever.
The appellate court rejected Phillips' request for special action on the judges' e-mail issue just two days after his 40-page motion was filed. The appellate judges didn't even bother to comment in their rejection. Ouch!
Undoubtedly, Arpaio and his minions promptly told Phillips to start preparing an appeal to the state Supreme Court -- damn the cost! -- and surely, the U.S. Supreme Court, too, if need be. That's just how they roll.
We put in a public records request for the fees paid to date to Sidley Austin, as well as to its local co-counsel. We have to imagine -- with hourly rates of up to $990 for Phillips and other senior partners, plus $280 an hour for new associates -- those numbers have been adding up fast. We'll let you know once we get the totals.
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One final thought.
Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas' laughable "racketeering" suit against county officials makes a point of sniffing about how expensive the lawyers hired to defend the court tower project are. Attorneys Ed Novak and Tom Irvine, the suit notes, "refused to disclose to the public their own numerous and genuine conflicts of interest as they were receiving payments of public funds...at a rate at above $340 an hour."
$340 an hour? How dare Novak and Irvine bill the county for that!
Haven't they heard that the going rate in Joe Arpaio's circle is $990???