Maria Brandon, Fired County Lawyer, Awarded $638,147 in Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

Maricopa County was ordered by a federal jury to pay $638,147 for retaliating against former county lawyer Maria Brandon after she commented to a newspaper.

See our previous article today for details on the case. The jury verdict, released minutes ago, rejects all of Brandon's claims except for two -- interference with an employment contract and violation of her First Amendment rights.

See also: -Brandon Trial: Catfight, Firing Detailed by Mark Faull, Bill Montgomery's No. 2 Man

Brandon won't receive punitive damages, but the good-sized compensatory damages figure will probably make her happy. Neither she nor her attorney, Larry Cohen, could be reached on Friday afternoon.

By siding with Brandon on the contract-interference claim, eight-member jury seems to have agreed that her comments in a 2010 newspaper article -- which irritated county leaders -- were the reason behind the county's move to take work away from her, and ultimately fire her.

The award can be added to the county's total of payouts stemming from the feud between county leaders on one side, and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio on the other. Following Thomas' departure and the merging of the Board of Supervisors' independent civil-litigation team back into the county attorney's office, tensions between varying factions ran high. Tom Liddy, a supervising attorney under current County Attorney Bill Montgomery, reportedly "likened the atmosphere to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, when there were lynchings," Brandon's suit stated.

A couple other attorneys were fired around the time Brandon was, including a woman who told a client that her supervisor was a bad lawyer, and a man who sent emails to other attorneys in the office calling Bill Montgomery a "Nazi."

The county's official reason for firing Brandon, however, was because she got into an altercation in the office with paralegal Jackie Garcia -- in which the paralegal admitted she cussed at Brandon, threatened to kick her butt, and "guided" her by the elbow down a hallway. The paralegal received five days' suspension without pay, but Mark Faull, Montgomery's chief deputy, testified that he fired Brandon -- a 33-year office employee with a good record -- because she'd provoked Garcia.

Cohen, Brandon's lawyer, told the jury that the officials' supposed concern about Brandon in the incident was merely a "pretext" to get rid of her following newspaper comments about the county's unusually high cash settlement to anti-Arpaio protesters.

Cari Gerchick, county spokeswoman, released this statement after today's verdict: "Maricopa County is reviewing the outcome of the jury's verdict and are evaluating our options."

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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.