Montgomery, the Republic, and Arpaio Want Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox to Zip It on Melendres

Brown people in this county just need keep their yaps shut, particularly when it comes to something that concerns them directly, like the anti-Latino bigotry that has so thoroughly infected the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

That's the message from the arrogant, privileged little club of the Arizona Republic's editorial board, which just happens to include Sheriff Joe Arpaio's son-in-law, Phil Boas.

In an unsigned (read: cowardly) opinion piece published this week, these idiot elitists advised county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox to "butt out" of any discussion or vote on the ACLU's big racial-profiling lawsuit Melendres v. Arpaio.

Actually, Republic columnist Laurie Roberts took up the cudgel first, commenting on a move by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to block Wilcox from discussions on Melendres in executive sessions of the county Board of Supervisors and from a pending BOS vote on whether county taxpayers should pony up the dough to appeal federal Judge G. Murray Snow's May 24 decision in the case.

Snow concluded that the MCSO has engaged in prejudiced policing toward Latinos. His exacting 142-page ruling ordered the MCSO to lay off Latinos and enjoined the MCSO from enforcing civil immigration law.

At a June 14 hearing, Snow informed both plaintiffs and defendants that he was inclined to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the changes in policy and training required to rid the MCSO of its bigoted ways.

Post-hearing, Arpaio's chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, explained to me, "We feel very strongly we were not racially profiling."

You know, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Hence, the need for the monitor.

The MCSO wants to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Arpaio has gone so far as to say that he wants to take it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An appeal of "findings of fact" following a trial in federal court is a tough nut. The ACLU's Dan Pochoda tells me that such findings would have to be "clearly erroneous" for them to be overturned on appeal. Legal scholars I've spoken with second that opinion.

Melendres already has cost the county more than $1 million in lawyers' fees. And currently, the county owes the plaintiffs for their legal bills, expected to be more than $1 million. If the county appeals and loses, it could be out another million or two.

Add in the tab for the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against the MCSO for racial profiling and a host of other constitutional transgressions. So far, it's more than $837,000.

Gee, this bigotry stuff is expensive.

For years now, the Board of Supervisors has been discussing Melendres, in executive session mostly, with its legal beagles. Wilcox has been part of these discussions.

But in a June 6 letter to Wilcox, County Attorney Montgomery advised her that she has a conflict of interest in the case. He cited a state law under which Wilcox could be charged with a class-six felony and removed from office if found guilty.

Why is Wilcox supposedly conflicted in Melendres?

Montgomery maintains it's because his office appealed the $1 million settlement in Wilcox and her husband Earl's federal lawsuit against the county. The pair sued for getting put through the legal wringer by Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the sheriff's since-disbarred and disgraced lackey.

In fact, Montgomery is following in the footsteps of Thomas in more ways than just pandering to the sheriff.

See, Monty's invoking a conflict-of-interest statute that Thomas used to indict Wilcox. First time around, Thomas hit her with 36 bogus felony charges. Second time around, 42. Many were for alleged conflicts of interest.

This was in retaliation for Wilcox's outspoken opposition to Arpaio's immigration sweeps and work-site raids targeting the Latino community.

Sound familiar?

Ultimately, the charges Thomas brought against Wilcox were thrown out, and this abuse of his power as a prosecutor became part of the State Bar of Arizona's case against him.

The statute in question, A.R.S. 38-503, states that a public officer must recuse him- or herself if he or she has a "substantial interest" in the matter at hand.

"Substantial interest" is defined as "any pecuniary or proprietary interest," meaning a financial interest of some kind.

You can argue that Wilcox has a political interest in Melendres, but so do Arpaio's supporters on the Board of Supervisors. Wilcox is the lone Democrat in a den of Republicans.

However, she does not stand to benefit financially from Melendres. Even the plaintiffs in Melendres are not seeking damages.

The outcome of Monty's appeal of the Wilcox settlement does not affect Melendres. Vice versa, Melendres could go down in flames tomorrow, and it will not affect the Wilcox settlement.

(An aside: The U.S. Department of Justice's claim against the MCSO is much broader and includes political retaliation against Arpaio's enemies, such as the Wilcoxes. Since Wilcox is named in that suit, she has recused herself from discussions concerning it.)

It really steams the Rep's Roberts that Wilcox scored a $1 million settlement from the county, though several county officials, employees, and judges have negotiated settlements ranging from $75,000 for the county's former information officer Steve Wetzel to $1.27 million for former Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe.

I reckon reasonable people can disagree. Personally, I don't think you check your civil rights at the door when you become a public servant. And if Roberts were in Wilcox's position or that of former Supervisor Don Stapley, I doubt she'd eschew damages and content herself with mere legal fees.

Anyway, Roberts backed Monty's call, writing, "I can think of one million reasons why Wilcox should not have a say in whether to appeal the Snow ruling."

Either that was a deliberate red herring or Roberts misread the law, assuming she looked it up. As stated above, Wilcox's settlement, currently drawing interest as Monty pursues his likely-to-fail appeal, does not hinge on anything that transpires in Melendres.

Which brings us to the editorial board's opinion piece this week, telling Wilcox to "butt out." (That's how the title read in the electronic version.)

Evidently, someone explained the law to the editorial board, because it concedes, unlike Roberts, that "legally, we believe [Wilcox] retains a right to discuss and vote on an appeal."

Yet, the Rep board still claims that she shouldn't do so because "a river of bad blood separates Wilcox and the sheriff."

That's an assertion that could be made of nearly all Latinos in Maricopa County. And the Rep comes pretty close to stating that brown folk cannot help but be biased when it comes to Arpaio.

"It is an article of faith among Wilcox's Hispanic constituents that Arpaio's 'crime-suppression sweeps' profiled them ruthlessly, and this case is the first proof of it," writes the editorial board.

Correction, ofays: Latinos in this county don't need "faith." They can rely instead on a federal judge's findings of fact. Arpaio's Hispanic-hunting sweeps did target their community, which is why the Supes' sole non-Anglo, non-male, non-Republican voice should be part of the board's discussions on Melendres.

Otherwise, a third of this county's residents effectively will be shut out of the process. When the Rep tells Wilcox to butt out, it's telling them to butt out. Ditto all those who agree with her, no matter their ethnicity, whose opinions are not echoed by those four conservative white Supes.

Wilcox has filed a claim in Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that will allow her to exercise her First Amendment rights without fear of arrest.

Amazing, the lengths Hispanics must go to in this racist county in order to achieve parity with their Anglo counterparts.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons