Maricopa County Craziness

Mary Rose Wilcox Files Notice of Claim Against Arpaio, Thomas, Hendershott, and Aubuchon

The lawsuits just keep coming.

Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and her husband, Earl, today filed a notice of claim against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Chief Deputy David Hendershott, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon, and both the Sheriff's Office and the County Attorney's Office. The Wilcoxes are alleging vindictive and malicious prosecution, retaliation, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among others.

Their claim, filed by attorneys Colin Campbell and Kathleen O'Meara of Osborn Maledon, demands $4.75 million.

The notice of claim is simply the latest in a long line of formal threats of litigation against Maricopa County in the wake of Arpaio and Thomas' year-long jihad against other county officials. In the last month, County Supervisor Don Stapley, former Presiding Criminal Court Judge Gary Donahoe, and developer Conley Wolfswinkel also filed claims.

Wilcox's claim relies heavily on assertions from Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whose bombshell testimony last fall caused Thomas' criminal cases against Wilcox and Stapley to collapse. (Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo kicked Thomas off the case, citing serious conflicts of interest, and dismissed all charges against Wilcox. An independent prosecutor in Gila County is now reviewing the case to see if the case should be rebrought.)

As attorneys Campbell and O'Meara note, Judge Leonardo found that Thomas "retaliated" against Wilcox, "attempted to gain political advantage by prosecuting those who oppose him politically," and had a "political alliance with the Maricopa County Sheriff who misused the power of his office to target" the supervisors, including Wilcox.

But the notice of claim also gets into a few areas that have gone relatively uncovered to date: what Wilcox did to get on the sheriff's bad side, and how bad the fallout has been for her, personally and professionally.

According to the notice of claim, Arpaio actually appeared at a supervisors meeting in June 2008 and accused Wilcox of conspiring with others to block him from receiving  $1.2 million in state funds for immigration enforcement -- his pet project.

"As he addressed the Board of Supervisors, Arpaio was obviously agitated and angry and repeatedly singled out Mary Rose for her opposition to his immigration enforcement policies..." Campbell writes.

Campbell also details Thomas' court tower conspiracy, in which he repeatedly claimed that the Board of Supervisors was corrupt in an attempt to stave off budget cuts to his own department. And, he notes the curious role of Josh Bernstein, a reporter at ABC-15:

Arpaio, Hendershott, and the MCSO leaked false information to media contacts they knew would publish defamatory articles. For instance, they repeatedly leaked false information to [Bernstein], and Bernstein published a series of articles falsely accusing the Wilcoxes of improprieties relating to Mary Rose's position on the Arizona State Boxing Commission. These leaks to the media led to threats against Mary Rose, including two very serious death threats. ... Mary Rose and Earl suffered increased distress after these leaks to Bernstein because Bernstein would call them in the middle of the night to say that Earl was going to get indicted (although he never was).

(Interestingly, that wasn't the only time that sheriff's office "sources" used Bernstein to spread false information. See this link for more information about a recent time the reporter got snookered.)

For Wilcox, Campbell writes, the aftermath has been severe.  Business at the Wilcoxes' restaurant, El Portal, has dropped "sharply," according the claim. Mary Rose Wilcox was forced to check "yes" on a loan application questioning whether she'd ever been indicted; after that, the loan officer "refused to even take the application to the approval committee." Another loan now costs them an extra $10,000 per quarter. Meanwhile, the Wilcoxes have racked up more than $100,000 in attorneys' fees.

And Wilcox's reputation has taken a beating. In November 2009, she was contacted to say she'd be receiving an award from the Interfaith Movement; after her indictment, the organization contacted her to say "they would not be honoring her at the dinner because of the criminal indictment against her and the cloud of controversy surrounding her case."

The 16-page notice makes for pretty sad reading -- mostly because of the worthlessness of all the pain and suffering it details. Thomas and Arpaio brought a half-baked case against Wilcox without being able to show anyone had been victimized by her behavior or that a dime of public money had been misspent. Naturally, their cases collapsed, but she's still suffering from the fallout even as Thomas, at least, waltzes on to other things.

And the worst part of all?

Guess who gets stuck with the bill for all these lawsuits? 

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske