Maricopa County Employee Faces Possible Punishment for Releasing Joel Fox Documents to Arizona Republic

An unnamed Maricopa County employee is in hot water after releasing records relating to the firing of former Sheriff's Office Deputy Joel Fox.

The Arizona Republic's JJ Hensley reported this morning that documents obtained by "county administrators" last week detail why Fox was fired. The reasons for the termination should have come as no surprise to close observers of his case. Our comprehensive article in April about Fox and his best friend, former deputy chief Larry Black (whom Fox "loves" covered the lies and unethical behavior behind the pair's involvement in a campaign-finance scandal.

Hensley reported that the documents show that a probe into allegations about Fox found that the former captain lied to the public and investigators, violated state campaign-finance law, embarrassed and discredited the Sheriff's Office, and treated a subordinate with favoritism.

Yet Cari Gerchick, county spokeswoman, says the release of records to Hensley apparently violated a June court order.

In May, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office released about two-thirds of a massive pile of records from an internal investigation he'd ordered into unethical behavior by his top aides. The remaining third, having to do with Fox, was blacked out. State law allows government employees to keep such findings secret until they've exhausted all of their appeals.

After news outlets balked at the black lines, Superior Court Judge Sam Myers ruled that the records didn't have to be released until 30 days after Fox's last appeal.

That appeal hasn't concluded yet, so it looks like the county messed up.

Gerchick declined our request (and that of other news agencies) this morning to view the records that Hensley saw.

No doubt, this gives Fox something else he could sue over. He's got a $5 million claim filed already. He tried -- and failed -- to sue former state Attorney General Terry Goddard. A check of court records this morning shows that Fox's lawsuit against Cox Communications still is being fought vigorously by the cable company.

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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.