When you file a lawsuit that's vigorously contested, but withdraw it before any judgment or settlement in the case -- that's called failure, right? At the least, it would appear to be the acknowledgment of a mistake.
Not so, according to Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Thomas said today that he and Sheriff Joe Arpaio have dropped their RICO lawsuit against county leaders, judges and lawyers because it has already produced the desired results.
By that, he meant that the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section has agreed to review the conspiracy theory alleged in the lawsuit.
"Today, it's a victory from our standpoint," Thomas said.
Arpaio, and the sheriff's Washington-D.C. lawyer, Robert Driscoll, who's representing Arpaio in the DOJ's investigation into allegations that deputies have committed racial profiling, also spoke at the news conference.
Thomas went on to say that the "only relief that would have been gotten from the case would have been funding the further investigation into the possible prosecution" of the county targets.
Driscoll said something along the same lines:
"The relief that we would be granted in that case would be essentially the relief we have now, which is someone to investigate and look into the evidence that has been produced" by county investigations, he said.
A look at the complaint shows Thomas and Arpaio, who launched the RICO lawsuit back in December, had asked for much more than that. They wanted:
*"Triple damages" each of the defendants had allegedly caused by their actions.
*Payment of their legal fees.
*The ability to "enforce the criminal and civil laws" without hindrance.
*Protection from offensive actions by the county.
*Any other relief the court chose to grant them.
The Valley's press corps expressed plenty of skepticism at the 2 p.m. presser in Arpaio's headquarters on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building. For starters, reporters wondered how could anyone believe Arpaio trusts the Department of Justice when his right-hand man, Chief Deputy David Hendershott, believes President Obama's administration is part of an anti-Arpaio conspiracy.
The answer: The Public Integrity Section, (which you'd think would enjoy the acronym "PIS," but instead goes by the less spicy "PIN"), is a different and much better division than one investigating claims of civil rights abuses.
Driscoll says he met with "key people" at the agency, and he's confident that PIN "is divorced from politics, seemingly so, and will objectively look at these matters -- that's all we've sought."
We listened to our digital recording a couple of times -- yeah, he said "seemingly so." Qualifiers like that say so much in such a little space, don't they?
Thomas said Driscoll has accomplished what he couldn't: A straight-up review of the case by the feds. Last year, Thomas asked the DOJ to expand its investigation into civil rights abuses by the Board of Supervisors to include his own grievances. They never responded, he said.
Previously, he tried to get the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona interested in his complaints, but the office told him it lacked the resources to look into the matters, he said.
Driscoll knows people in high places, apparently. But it's not like he convinced anyone to investigate the claims by Arpaio and Thomas. In response to a question by one of the reporters at the meeting, Driscoll acknowledged that anyone could ask the feds to review criminal allegations, but that it doesn't mean it'll lead to investigation.
Of course, it could. PIN will look into the courthouse tower investigation, the allegations of obstruction of justice and racketeering, the two-year-old investigation of state Attorney General Terry Goddard, and more. Maybe PIN will see everything in the same light as Thomas' crack prosecutor, Lisa Aubuchon.
More likely, they'll tell Thomas and Arpaio, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Still, Thomas -- who is considering a second bid for state Attorney General and has more to lose, politically, than the 77-year-old sheriff -- may get something out of all this. When the DOJ turns down the offer to investigate, he could say he tried.
As usual for these news conference, Arpaio complained about the vast level of corruption by powerful county politicians (which is always ironic-sounding considering all the allegations against him) and Thomas complained about the smears, and "character assassination" he's suffered at the hands of his enemies.
Another interesting question raised was how much Driscoll was being paid. He refused to answer a reporter who pressed him on the question and told him "there are ways you can find that out." But New Times has already tried repeatedly to find out -- and been stymied.
Last, we want to mention that Thomas got specific about one of the allegations in the pile of records he's forwarding to PIN. He claims that Thomas Irvine, the lawyer hired by the county who ended up named in the RICO lawsuit, made a million dollars for taking minutes at meetings to discuss the planned courthouse tower building.
We asked what was so bad, from his point of view, about lawyers making easy money -- after all, Thomas hired his boss, Dennis Wilenchik, to work as a lawyer for the county.
Thomas says that's different.
"Why should we pay a lawyer $300 an hour for taking minutes at a meeting?" Thomas asked.
Thomas, upon further questioning, admits that he doesn't really know if Irvine performed more work "because the subjects of the investigation blocked the investigation."
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Jessica Funkhouser, special court counsel to the Superior Court, later told New Times that allegation was "absolutely untrue." She wrote:
In fact he has never taken "minutes" of meetings. He is one of the top construction law attorneys in Arizona and has provided invaluable advice on how to make the project function efficiently, comply with the ADA and other legal requirements, address constitutional problems identified by the federal courts with court holding cells and a myriad of other issues.
The Public Integrity Section better put on its hip boots.