Maricopa County Craziness

Mary Rose Wilcox, Barbara Mundell and Susan Schuerman Settlements Will Save Maricopa County Millions, County Says

Pending settlements to Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, retired Judge Barbara Mundell and county employee Susan Schuerman will reportedly save the county millions.

The county says that, the settlements to Mundell and Schuerman (Supervisor Don Stapley's executive assistant) are now final, but the potential settlement for Wilcox is still up in the air.

A county document sent to County Manager David Smith and released to New Times suggests that it would be best to settle with the three plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the county, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

The document begins by referring to the federal court ruling we wrote about on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake, which denied that Arpaio and Thomas enjoy legal immunity as law officers in many of the plaintiffs' claims.

Wilcox would receive $975,000 under the deal, while Mundell and Schuerman will each receive $500,000.

Chris Skelly, a retired Maricopa Superior Court judge like Mundell, suggests in an April 9 e-mail reprinted in the county document that the settlement would expire at 10 a.m. on Tuesday -- so we're not sure why the county is still saying the Wilcox settlement isn't final.

The consolidated lawsuit before Wake was filed by other plaintiffs besides those three: County Supervisor Don Stapley, retired Judge Gary Donahoe, deputy county manager Sandi Wilson and developer Conley Wolfswinkle.

Judge Wake's April 9 order "is significant because these claims exposed the County to potentially very substantial adverse awards for the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees, even if the jury were to award the plaintiffs nominal damages," county risk managers wrote to County Manager David Smith.

In looking at the risks to county taxpayers, analysts believe that defending against Mundell, Schuerman and Wilcox -- all victims of the unethical behavior of Sheriff Arpaio and the now-disbarred Andy Thomas -- would have to pay between $3 million and $6 million to the other sides' attorneys on top of even an average-sized award to the three plaintiffs.

Even if the three plaintiffs lost their case, the county could end up responsible for $2 million to $4 million in fees to its own defense attorneys, the county figures.

In the past 15 months, the county has averaged about $88,000 a month in defense costs for the six defense lawyers working the case. And, of course, the case hasn't even really begun yet, analysts wrote. Once it moved toward a trial, the expenses would skyrocket.

Paying just under $2 million to the three plaintiffs would be "prudent and consistent with being a fiscally conservative steward of the taxpayer's money," the document states.

That's right -- everything comes from the county's pool of public funds: The settlements, the potential jury awards, the defense attorneys' hefty fees and, of course, the salaries and pension funds of the county employees suing the county.

While the public may fairly question these payouts, the thing to keep in mind is that there would be no need for settlements if not for the disgraceful actions by Arpaio and Thomas.

Click here to see the Maricopa County document about the settlements.

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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.
Contact: Ray Stern