Maricopa County Craziness

Resolution Process Considered for Claims Related to Actions of Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas; Plan Involves Hiring Dispute Expert Kenneth Feinberg


The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to hire dispute expert Kenneth Feinberg to handle claims against the county by county officials and employees.

Feinberg has a solid reputation as a legal referee. He's the Obama-appointed "pay czar," (monitoring the pay of executives who work for companies bailed out by the government), he handled the claims related to the 9/11 attacks, and he was most recently tapped to handle the $20 billion compensation fund that arose from the BP oil-spill disaster.

County Manager David Smith came up with the idea to use Feinberg's East Coast law firm to add a veneer of credibility to the internecine claims, which came about because of the heavy-handed legal actions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

Although the people affected by the actions of Thomas and Arpaio may well deserve compensation, the concept of county leaders collecting millions in damages from the county is one that clearly deserves public scrutiny.

Two of the five supervisors, for example, expect to collect money from the county for their troubles. Others planning to sue include judges or retired judges Gary Donahoe, Kenneth Fields, Anna Baca, and Barbara Mundell; Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson; and Stapley's executive assistant, Susan Schuerman. A June 4 Arizona Republic article reported that the claims so far total $46 million.

Smith told New Times a few weeks ago that he won't put in a claim. Yet many under him either have or intend to.

If the supervisors approve the plan at their special meeting tomorrow, the county will pay a $50,000 "start-up fee" to Feinberg's firm next week and $500,000 over the next 12 months, says county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick.

In a report heavily critical of Arpaio and Thomas, county staffers note that they're heading into a legal Twilight Zone:

Our research can find no other examples of claimants and potential claimants being the same people charged with resolving claims.

As we've mentioned before, these uncharted waters might be hazardous to the public's financial health -- left unchecked, would these people simply start writing fat checks to each other?

Not only would a resolution process be critical to preserving public trust, county staffers write, it could be a huge money-saver.

Even if the county fights the claims vigorously, resulting in the miracle that no one gets paid, the county will still spend $15 million to $20 million on legal expenses in the next five- to 10-years, the report states.

Trouble is, no one making a claim against the county would be beholden to the dispute-resolution process. Claimants could opt in, but those who don't still have the right to sue.

With millions of dollars (not to mention professional reputations) at stake, the people who feel abused by Thomas and Arpaio will want the best deal they can get.




What: Special Meeting by County Supervisors

When: 10 a.m. Wednesday, June 23

Where: 10th floor of county building at 301 West Jefferson Street

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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.