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Sheriff Arpaio Still at War With County

PHOENIX (CN) - Sheriff Joe Arpaio has sued his bosses again. This time, the self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" claims that Maricopa County officials, administrators and judges conspired to stop the prosecution of an indicted board member and the investigation of a new $341 million Superior Court tower.

Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas claim that the Board of Supervisors used public money to hire a contractor to "sweep for bugs" in county offices shortly after the issuance of a 118-count indictment of Supervisor Don Stapley.

Stapley was accused of failing to disclose multimillion-dollar land deals on personal financial disclosure statements - including a $10 million loan his companies received, and land sales involving Conley Wolfswinkel, who was convicted of bank fraud in the 1990s.

According to Arpaio's racketeering lawsuit in Federal Court, the Stapley criminal case was initially assigned at random - by policy - to a Superior Court judge. Arpaio says Presiding Judge Barbara R. Mundell then violated the policy by reassigning the case to retired Judge Kenneth Fields, a critic of County Attorney Thomas.

Arpaio and Thomas claim that four experts on legal ethics stated that Fields "was ethically required" to recuse himself and said so to Fields and Mundell.

But the court refused to grant Thomas' office a hearing on the state's motion to recuse Fields, which violates "Arizona's rules of court, which require a prompt hearing upon the filing of such a motion," according to the complaint.

Fields had criticized Thomas in the media and filed a complaint with the state Bar against his enforcement of immigration laws.

Fields dismissed the criminal case against Stapley and in his rulings and statements implied that attorneys in the County Attorney's Office "had committed ethical violations simply by asking questions about, and then challenging" the selection of Fields for the Stapley case, Arpaio and Thomas say.

The sheriff and county attorney claim that in November 2006, the Superior Court hired attorney Thomas Irvine and the Polsinelli Shughart law firm as its counsel for the publicly funded $341 million tower through a City of Phoenix contract instead of through the "normal procurement process."

When Thomas raised questions about a conflict of interest between the construction of the tower and the relationship between the county judges, the Board of Supervisors and its counsel, Irvine, filed a pleading claiming that Thomas and the County Attorney's Office had "numerous conflicts of interest."

This led Judge Gary Donahoe to disqualify Thomas and the County Attorney's Office from the investigation. Arpaio and Thomas call that "an attempt to intimidate county prosecutors and improperly end the investigation," in their complaint.

Thomas says he was not the only person who questioned the hiring of Irvine and the law firm. He claims one project manager has said, "Irvine and attorneys in his firm seemed to have been hired simply to 'take minutes' in meetings."

The Board of Supervisors paid Polsinelli Shughart at least $1.2 million in legal fees in the past year, in addition to what the Superior Court paid it for the tower project, according to the complaint.

Arpaio and Thomas says the Board of Supervisors illegally took over the "civil functions" of the County Attorney's Office by creating a civil litigation division, cutting $6 million in funding and preventing the office from "fulfilling its statutory duties to the Sheriff's Office."

Arpaio and Thomas seek treble damages, costs and attorneys' fees. Other defendants include County Manager David Smith, Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson, Wade Swanson of the Office of General Litigation, Judge Anna Baca and attorney Edward Novack.

Arpaio has sued his Board of Supervisors at least seven times in recent years, often in squabbles over power. Arpaio himself has been sued at least 74 times since 2005.

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