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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Two Judges Seek Punitive Damages|From Sheriff Arpaio for Defamation

PHOENIX (CN) - Two retired judges have sued Sheriff Joe Arpaio, claiming "America's Toughest Sheriff" filed a baseless racketeering lawsuit against them, recklessly defaming them with allegations of extortion, conspiring to commit bribery and other crimes. The judges say Arpaio filed the baseless lawsuit "to intimidate, harass, discredit and humiliate" them because of rulings the judges made "in the ordinary course of judicial conduct," and that Arpaio knew the allegations were false when he made them.

The retired judges also sued Arpaio's chief deputy and two county attorneys, in Maricopa County Court.

The entire fiasco began with plans for construction of a $341 million tower for the Maricopa County Superior Court.

Plaintiff Barbara Mundrell was Presiding Judge of Maricopa County Superior Court until she retired this year. Anna Baca was presiding judge of Maricopa County Criminal Presiding Court until she retired in 2009.

They sued Arpaio and his chief deputy David Hendershott; Andrew P. Thomas, who was Maricopa County Attorney at the time the incidents occurred; Lisa Aubuchon, who was a deputy county attorney; and present County Attorney Richard Romley, who is sued in his official capacity only.

The complaint states: "While serving the Court, the plaintiffs exercised their legitimate and independent judicial discretion, in a criminal investigation and prosecution of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors regarding the approval of the Downtown Clock Tower. Defendants viewed the plaintiffs' rulings and decisions as antagonistic to the prosecution, but, in fact, the plaintiffs' actions were taken in the ordinary course of judicial conduct.

"In retaliation for the judges' actions, defendants Arpaio and Thomas filed a civil racketeering lawsuit on December 1, 2009, naming plaintiffs, along with Judge Gary donahoe, Judge Kenneth Fields, and other Maricopa County officials, as defendants. This racketeering lawsuit was drafted by defendants Thomas and Aubuchon under the supervision and direction of the other defendants. The lawsuit was intended to intimidate, harass, discredit and humiliate the plaintiffs.

"Among many allegations, the lawsuit falsely alleged that the judges 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 Mundell violated court policies in assigning cases; all allegations were false and baseless, and defendants knew of the falsity of the allegations or were reckless in disregard for the truth.

"Independently from the baseless lawsuit, defendants too every possible opportunity to repeat their false allegations to the public by orchestrating and participating in multiple press conferences, television interviews, newspaper articles, editorials, letters, complaints and Internet postings. In fact, defendants continue to publish their false allegations on the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's website under postings regarding judicial complaint filed against the individual judges and drafted by defendant Hendershott.

"After three months, defendants voluntarily dismissed their baseless racketeering lawsuit, but continued to make false allegations against the plaintiffs.

"After filing the racketeering lawsuit, based upon plaintiff's information and belief, defendant Arpaio leaked to the media that Judge Mundell's office and residence would be searched and personal computers would be seized; the judges' homes were also monitored by unmarked Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cars for the purpose of intimidating the judges.

"The defendants continually and intentionally tarnished the plaintiffs' reputations and personal character through multiple press releases, conferences, television interviews, and Internet postings in retaliation for plaintiffs' adverse rulings against the defendants.

"By virtue of all proceeding [sic] allegations, defendants are liable for abuse of process, wrongful institution of civil proceedings, defamation, slander, libel false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and constitutional claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983."

The retired judges say Arpaio, Thomas, Aubuchon and Hendershott are personally liable "because their actions in retribution against the plaintiffs were done with malice and the defendants knew or acted in reckless disregard that their actions were in violation of established law."

"As a result of the defendants' actions, plaintiffs have suffered irreversible harm to their reputations, emotional distress, legal fees, and adverse health effects from the stress of the charges brought against them, including anxiety and insomnia."

And they say they are 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 judges are represented by Jose de Jesus Rivera with Haralson, Miller, Pitt, Feldman & McAnally.

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