PHOENIX (CN) – Two more Superior Court judges have sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio for defamation, and a deputy county manager and a county administrator added complaints of their own, all alleging that Arpaio targeted them for baseless criminal investigations to retaliate for the judges’ court rulings and the county employees work on budget cuts. Four Superior Court judges or retired judges have sued Arpaio this week; the new plaintiffs claim that Arpaio’s actions “constitute the rankest misuse of power against those innocent and powerless citizens that our system of government is supposed to protect.”
Of the four new defamation complaints in Maricopa County Court, one comes from retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields; one is from Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe; one is from Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson; and one from Sue Schuerman, a deputy administrator to County Supervisor Don Stapley.
The new lawsuits come on the heels of a similar complaint from Barbara Mundrell, the presiding judge of Maricopa County Superior Court until she retired this year, and Anna Baca, presiding judge of Maricopa County Criminal Presiding Court until she retired in 2009.
All five complaints (the first two judges sued together) claim that Arpaio acted in concert with his chief deputy and with former County Attorney Andrew Thomas to retaliate for the officials’ actions taken in the course of their official duties, and all say that Arpaio and his cronies knew their defamatory allegations were baseless when they made them.
In her complaint, Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson says Arpaio and Thomas targeted her after she recommended budget cuts to their agencies, when she was acting county manager.
In response, Wilson says, the defendants told the media that she was under “criminal investigation.” This came after she supported the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ decision to continue with the construction of the Court Tower project, “a capital project 12 years in the planning, one budgeted for and saved for over those years; a project in which both Arpaio and Thomas had participated in planning.”
Wilson says Arpaio sent deputies to county employees’ homes, “seeking information on their bosses and information that they might use as fodder in the war they had declared against the cost-conscious county – by virtue of her position, Sandi Wilson was at the epicenter of their attack.”
In January this year, Thomas and co-defendant Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon “empanelled a grand jury to use as one of their tools of intimidation,” but their case was “muddled, political, as ‘incomprehensible’ as it was to the independent prosecutors that later reviewed their ‘case’,” according to Wilson’s complaint.
Wilson adds that Thomas and Aubuchon continued to defame her even after leaving their positions, accusing her and other county officials of “rigging the system so they can avoid going to court like anyone else and testifying under oath,” and saying that the racketeering action against Wilson was “justly filed.”
In his complaint, Retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields claims that Arpaio and Thomas filed a baseless civil racketeering lawsuit against him, Donahoe, and Wilson on Dec. 1, 2009, falsely alleging that they “communicated outside the scope of their judicial offices for illicit purposes, conspired to facilitate payment of public funds to the Court Tower project, hindered criminal investigations and prosecutions, conspired to commit bribery and extortion by hindering the prosecution of county officers, and alleged that Judge Fields held improper bias against the defendants and made rulings adverse to the defendants on that basis.”
These charges are virtually identical to the ones made by the first two judges who sued Arpaio, as Courthouse News reported on Tuesday.
Judge Fields adds that the “defendants repeatedly and broadly disseminated their false allegations to the public by orchestrating and participating in multiple press conferences, television interviews, newspaper articles, editorials, letters, complaints and Internet postings. On information and belief, the defendants continue to publish their false allegations on the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s website under postings regarding judicial complaints filed against the individual judges and drafted by defendant [David] Hendershott.”
Hendershott is Arpaio’s chief deputy.
Fields says Arpaio’s retaliation and defamation came because the judge had used his “legitimate and independent judicial discretion, in a criminal investigation and prosecution of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors regarding the approval of the Downtown Court Tower. Defendants viewed the plaintiff’s rulings and decisions as antagonistic to the prosecution, but, in fact, the plaintiff’s actions were taken in the ordinary course of judicial conduct.”
In her complaint, Sue Schuerman, assistant to County Supervisor Don Stapley, says that Arpaio and Hendershott “devised an attack … designed to coerce and frighten her into cooperating in their political vendetta against Supervisor Stapley.”
Schuerman says the defendants leaked the news of their “criminal investigation” of her to the media, despite knowing that “there was no evidence that Susan conducted any private business for Supervisor Stapley using County resources.”
Schuerman claims that Hendershott tried to intimidate her “into sitting down with him to talk about anything she knew about her boss’s business dealings and even suggested that she ‘come up with something on Stapley’ to protect herself,” according to the complaint. “When she said she would prefer the process, safety, and procedural assurance of a subpoena, Hendershott lost his temper and threatened her – if she refused to talk to him privately he would launch one of his ‘criminal investigations’ – now against her!”
She says Hendershott told her on multiple occasions that she was making a “big mistake” by not giving him information to use against Stapley.
Schuerman says that made her fear that Arpaio and Hendershott would use her “modest county salary” and her responsibilities to her sick daughter to make her “vulnerable to their coercion.”
Schuerman later asked for and was appointed a county lawyer, an expense for which Thomas threatened legal action against the Board of Supervisors, alleging “illegal expenditure of county money,” according to the complaint.
Schuerman says the defendants’ criminal investigation of her “was instigated only to intimidate Susan into helping defendants pursue the retributive investigation and prosecution of her boss.”
She says she was harassed by Sheriff’s Office detectives who followed her home, patrolled her street, tapped her phones and seized her computers. She says the defendants’ actions harmed her health, physically and mentally, and that “they were successful in terrorizing her.”
And his complaint, Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe claims the defendants brought a racketeering complaint against him after he denied Thomas’s request that Stapley be held in criminal contempt.
Judge Donahoe says the defendants’ investigation of the Court Tower was “the Trojan Horse for Arpaio and Thomas’s assault on their political enemies, du jour. Both Thomas and Arpaio had previously endorsed and helped plan this project!”
The defendants brought a criminal complaint against Donahoe, “falsely accusing him of three felonies: obstruction of justice, hindering prosecution, and bribery of a public official,” to try to stop him from “issuing rulings that would displease Thomas, Aubuchon, Arpaio, and Hendershott,” according to the complaint.
Donahoe says Arpaio did this in retaliation for the judge’s orders to show cause why Arpaio “should not be held in contempt for his repeated refusals to bring … inmates to court on time,” after a violent sex offender escaped during a lunch recess.
Because of the criminal complaint against Donahoe, he was forced to step down from his position as Presiding Criminal Judge, since he had “stopped hearing all cases in which the state was represented by the county attorney because of the possible conflict” – an action that increased the workload of his fellow judges.
Fields says he is entitled to punitive damages because the “defendants’ actions in retaliation against judges properly performing their judicial duties evince the evil state of mind.” The retired judge is represented by Bruce Feder.
Schuerman, Donahoe, and Wilson seek general, punitive, and treble damages for abuse of power, infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and negligence. They are all represented by Michael Manning with Stinson, Morrison & Hecker.