PHOENIX (CN) – Labor law powerhouse Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart sued Maricopa County for defamation, claiming the county removed it from its approved vendor list for outside counsel and falsely accused it of unethical and criminal conduct.
Ogletree Deakins “was an approved vendor on the county’s list of outside counsel and was awarded several contracts for legal services” before September 2010, according to the complaint in Maricopa County Court.
Its clients included Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
But the county fired it and removed it from the approved vendor list in a Sept. 22, 2010 lettersigned by County Manager David Smith.
Ogletree says the termination letter “contained false and defamatory statements including, among other things, accusing Ogletree of unethical and possibly criminal conduct and of acting in an unreasonable manner.”
The county also made “unprivileged publications and republications of the termination letter and the defamatory statements therein, including causing the defamatory statements to be published by reporters and intentionally leaking misstatements and half-truths to the media for the purpose of impugning the integrity and business practices of Ogletree,” according to the complaint.
John Doran, whose Phoenix law office, Sherman & Howard, represents Ogletree, told Courthouse News that the lawsuit “is simply a procedural step that is necessary to preserve rights that we invoked several months ago.”
Ogletree filed a notice of claim in March, demanding attorney fees and an apology for the termination letter.
“We continue to work in good faith to resolve all of our issues with the county,” Doran said.
Maricopa County communications director Cari Gerchick said the county does not comment on pending or open litigation.
The termination claimed, inter alia, that Ogletree Deakins improperly expanded “the scope of assignments and representation, resulting in the wasteful duplication of legal services and potentially inflated billing,” and that it cost county taxpayers “more than $5 million in outside counsel legal fees, ($3.2 million of which was paid to Ogletree during the last fiscal year alone), and Ogletree has yet to prevail in any of the almost a dozen frivolous lawsuits it has filed against the county and its Board of Supervisors.” (Parentheses in letter.)
The letter also accuses Ogletree of trying “coerce the county into waiving a conflict of interest that a federal judge described as unwaivable, causing the judge to chastise the managing partner of your Phoenix office, Leigh Eric Dowell, for ‘grandstanding’ and trying to ‘browbeat’ the county;”
of “Promising to pay an alleged expert $1,500 every month regardless of whether the expert provided any services at all, an arrangement which is a highly questionable use of public funds;”
of “advising and/or allowing the Sheriff’s Office to refuse to turn over public records sought by subpoena despite apparently acknowledging that no legal basis existed for this course of action;”
of “Lacking sufficient transparency in billing, resulting in both unnecessary expenditure of County staff time to analyze incomplete information and an increase in the probability of the cover-up of fraudulent activity;”
and of “Continuously acting in an antagonistic and unprofessional manner that is not only below the standards of any attorney whose legal fees are paid for by public money, but at least one judge described as ‘inappropriate, demeaning, and certainly not focused on resolving legal or factual issues’ and also found to be ‘lacking in civility, unprofessional and discourteous”.
In its complaint, Ogletree says the county’s false claims “were part of a baseless campaign to smear the reputation of Ogletree, one of the nation’s largest and most respected labor and employment law firms.”
It claims the county published the letter “with the intent to damage Ogletree’s reputation and acted with actual malice when publishing the defamatory statements.”
Ogletree Deakins wants the county enjoined from republishing the defamatory remarks, and compensatory and punitive damages for defamation.