Maricopa County Craziness

Andy Kunasek, Maricopa County Supervisor, to be Paid $123,000 by County Because of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas

Another day, another six-digit award by Maricopa County to a victim of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

This time it's the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Andy Kunasek, who was framed for a crime he didn't commit as part of an apparent plan to usurp power from the Board of Supervisors.

Kunasek, a Republican who represents the county's north-central District 3, will receive $123,110 from the county to settle a claim he made in the aftermath of the multi-year squabble we call "county craziness."

The money will go entirely to pay off legal and investigation fees he incurred to fight the unethical legal attacks against him, Kunasek and his lawyer, David Derickson, say.

Kunasek was recently elected to his fifth term of office by voters; other Board members then made him chair of the Board for 2013.

The bogus criminal investigations and attempted prosecutions by Thomas resulted in the former prosecutor's disbarment last year.

Arpaio, not being a lawyer, can't be disbarred for his part in what a three-member state Supreme Court disciplinary panel likened to an "unholy alliance" between him and Thomas.

Despite the allegations, prosecutors at the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office decided in August that no criminal charges would be filed against Arpaio, Thomas, or their former employees, and voters re-elected Arpaio to a sixth term in November.

Arpaio blames nearly everything on his former chief deputy, Dave Hendershott. He claims, incredibly, that Hendershott "duped" him.

Kunasek became a major part of the Arpaio-Thomas scandal, and the third Supervisor to face criminal investigation by Arpaio's office. He was forced to hire a lawyer to defend himself, resulting a significant bill.

In his demand letter to the county, conveniently posted to the web by the Arizona Republic, Derickson writes that Arpaio and Thomas were motivated to win budget battles and enrich their own offices by going after Kunasek and other Board members.

As part of his duties as Board member, Kunasek oversees operations at the Sheriff's Office, (although Arpaio, as an elected official, also answers directly to voters.) Kunasek says he's not sure how to answer the question, "How can you trust Arpaio?"

"With the changes in personnel over there, they're not doing the same things," he says, referring to the fact that Hendershott is no longer there, and Jerry Sheridan, the new chief deputy, is seen as a reasonable guy.

Kunasek says he believes that Thomas -- whom he calls a "nutcase" -- was "the worst player in all of this. He could have and should have" stopped Arpaio from abusing the law.

Hardly a rousing endorsement of Arpaio.

But Kunasek has long been criticized for failing to hold Arpaio accountable for various misdeeds, (as in this recent post by New Times writer Stephen Lemons about Kunasek voting against a $3.25 million settlement for the family of Deborah Braillard, a diabetic woman who died after being denied proper medical care in jail.)

The relationship between the two elected officials can only be described as complicated.

Derickson says the $123,110 represents fees incurred by him and Phoenix private investigator Don Vogel, who proved crucial in several ways. For instance, when Kunasek became one of several officials, judges and lawyers that Arpaio deemed the "Good Old Boy Corrupt Network," Vogel's back-end research proved what the defendants already knew: That Arpaio and Thomas had no real case.

Arpaio and Thomas' bad actions have resulted in several big payoffs to their victims. Former County Judge Barbara Mundell received $500,000, as did Don Stapley's executive assistant, Susan Schuerman. Two other judges got $100,000 apiece, and the county's IT guru, Steve Wetzel, got $75,000. Mary Rose Wilcox was approved for a settlement of about $1 million, but the payoff is still under dispute.

Hendershott and one of Thomas' key henchwomen in his unethical actions, former prosecutor Lisa Aubuchon, who was also disbarred, tried to sue the people they once terrorized, claiming a conspiracy of retaliation and defamation. At a November hearing that Kunasek attended, a judge slapped them and their lawyer with more than $200,000 in sanctions for filing the "unintelligible" lawsuit. The trio is appealing the ruling.

Kunasek says he waited to make his claim for the legal fees until after he knew he wouldn't be called to testify in a criminal proceeding against the lawmen or their employees. The timing drew criticism from one of our loyal readers, who wrote to us, "Of course, waiting until after he was re-elected never entered his mind..."

Yet announcing the claim before the election wouldn't have made it any less valid.

People framed by rogue lawmen shouldn't have to pay six-digit defense fees.