PHOENIX (CN) – Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s former chief deputy and a former Maricopa County deputy attorney claim county officials destroyed their reputations “in an attempt to influence the public by the misuse of their positions of power and misuse of the truth.”
Former Chief Deputy David Hendershott and former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon claim they were retaliated against after investigating the county’s $375 million criminal court tower, and for their involvement in a 118-count criminal indictment against Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley.
Aubuchon was fired in September 2010 on allegations that she filed racketeering lawsuits against county officials with insufficient evidence.
Hendershott resigned in April after a report by the state Attorney General’s Office that he participated in “illegal conduct of an enterprise and obstructing criminal investigations or prosecutions.”
They sued five Maricopa County and its five supervisors, the county manager and assistant manager, the county attorney and a former county attorney, the state and its attorney general, and others, in Maricopa County Court.
Hendershott and Aubuchon claim that Stapley “pressured a presiding judge into hiring” attorney Thomas Irvine and the Polsinelli Shughart law firm as a “space planner” for the publicly funded tower. Irvine and Polisnelli Shughart are both named as defendants.
Hendershott and Aubuchon claim Irvine’s position “was not disclosed and later it was learned that defendant Irvine, and his law firm, defendant Polsinelli Shughart, and his law partner defendant Edward Novak were in fact legal counsel for parties directly involved in the court tower project including the board of supervisors, the construction contractor who had won the bid on the court tower project, as well as defendant Stapley.”
Novak is also named as a defendant.
According to the 46-page complaint, in 2008, Maricopa County Treasurer Charles Hoskins “brought forward grave concerns of possible financial wrongdoing on the part of the defendant board members and defendant senior county managers regarding the funding and spending related to the court tower project.”
Hoskins took his concerns to the sheriff’s office and the county attorney after the county failed “to disclose information that Hoskins, in his elected capacity as treasurer, requested,” according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs say Hoskins questioned the Board of Supervisors, and advised it “that he would have to sue if they took his funds and he was subsequently directly threatened by Stapley and [Supervisor Max] Wilson not to file any lawsuit against the board or his budget and personnel would be cut.”
When Hoskins did file a complaint against the board, “the defendant board immediately cut the treasurer’s budget and seized his IT personnel positions which prevented him from doing his constitutional duties,” according to the complaint.
After Hoskins filed his complaint, the sheriff’s and attorney’s offices “determined it was very appropriate to go forward with an investigation to ascertain if in fact Hoskins’ concerns about the board and senior county management had validity,” the complaint states.
Aubuchon says she questioned Novak, of Polsinelli Shughart, about his partner Irvine “and the firm’s clear conflict of interest.” Hendershott says he “sent a letter to the same firm requesting similar information.”
The plaintiffs claim Irvine and Novak then “engaged in retaliatory and oppressive conduct” against them, including “the unilateral transfer of most of the civil attorneys from MCAO to a newly formed special litigation section that reported to defendant [County Manager David] Smith.”
With the help of the two lawyers, the board was able to establish “policies contrary to law to protect any attempt to obtain public records or file a lawsuit against the county for their wrongful actions,” the plaintiffs say.
The board required that some of the civil attorneys in the attorney’s office sign as a condition of employment a “conflict waiver” and a “loyalty oath” to county management, not the attorney’s office, Hendershott and Aubuchon say.
They claim that Smith also ordered that fees due to sheriff’s office attorneys “not be paid, although properly billed, properly accounted, and properly earned” in retaliation “for the competent work done by the county hired attorneys for the MCSO.”
They claim the defendants fired “disciplinary attorneys” they had hired for Aubuchon and “never did contract with or pay for any other attorney to represent” her in a State Bar complaint, even though Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery told the Arizona Republic they were paying the fees.
And they say Stapley’s lawyers went to court to attempt to “intimidate Aubuchon and to show their support of actions against Aubuchon as to the allegations of misconduct” in disclosing a deposition of Stapley’s former business partner, Corey Wolfswinkel.
The plaintiffs claim Smith and other county officials publicly berated Hendershott and his performance as chief deputy “to put him in a false light and disparage him and his family and accuse him of a crime as well as attempt to have Hendershott’s POST [Peace Officers Standards and Training] certification revoked.”
Hendershott and Aubuchon claim these actions, and others, were “in part taken to derail investigation and prosecution into criminal wrongdoings and to intimidate the plaintiffs and prevent them from doing their sworn duty of upholding the law and protecting and serving the public in Maricopa County and the State of Arizona.”
They seek punitive damages for defamation, retaliation, wrongful termination, perjury, and conspiracy.
They are represented by Edward Moriarity with Moriarity, Badaruddin & Booke of Missoula, Mont.