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Arizona county to settle 2 lawsuits vs. Arpaio

PHOENIX — Arizona’s most populous county agreed Friday to pay more than $7
million to settle lawsuits by a former Maricopa County official and two
newspaper executives accusing Sheriff Joe Arpaio of abuse of power.

In the first suit, former Supervisor Don Stapley agreed to accept $3.5 million
to drop his case accusing Arpaio, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and
others of pursuing trumped-up criminal cases against him.

A separate $3.75 million settlement was reached with executives of the Phoenix
New Times, who sued Arpaio’s office after they were arrested in 2007 for
publishing information about a secret grand jury subpoena demanding information
on its stories and online readers.

Stapley’s settlement brings closure to a string of lawsuits filed by numerous
other high-ranking county officials and judges who claimed Arpaio and Thomas
wrongfully targeted them in corruption investigations between 2008 and 2010.

In the newspaper executives’ lawsuit, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin accused
Arpaio’s office of violating their constitutional rights.

“Who thinks you can arrest American journalists for what they write?” Lacey
said Friday after the settlement’s announcement. “It’s just remarkable.”

Lacey said that while the settlement was good news, he would like to see Arpaio
held accountable for his actions.

“This guy has just run wild and the county has continued to write checks for
his abuses without curtailing the abuses,” he said.

Arpaio wasn’t immediately available Friday for comment. But one of his aides,
Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre, said, “It was an economic decision by the county
Board of Supervisors” and it made “better economic sense” than going to
court.

MacIntyre said the New Times executives originally demanded about $90 million
to settle their lawsuit and Stapley sought more than $20 million.

“It’s really good to close those two pages and move forward,” MacIntyre
added.

Michael Manning, who represents both Stapley and the New Times executives, did
not immediately return calls seeking comment. Thomas also didn’t return calls.

A joint statement by the four county supervisors said, “We are convinced that
settlement of Mr. Stapley’s suit protects the taxpayers from even larger cost
down the road, and hopefully closes the final chapter in what has been a very
sad and damaging period in our county’s history.”

The Stapley lawsuit cost county taxpayers about $1.8 million, officials said,
while the New Times case cost nearly $438,000 in legal fees and expenses.

The Stapley deal brings the county’s costs for settlements of officials’
lawsuits to at least $7.7 million.

The county has appealed a $975,000 settlement with Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.
The county also has forked over $5.5 million in legal fees and other costs in
the lawsuits.

Officials and judges who filed the lawsuits say they were targeted because they
were in legal and political disputes with the sheriff and Thomas over cuts to
agency budgets, a plan to build a new court complex and other issues. Arpaio and
Thomas contended they were trying to root out corruption in county government.

Between 2008 and 2009, criminal charges were filed against Stapley, Wilcox and
a judge, but those prosecutions quickly collapsed in court. Thomas and another
prosecutor were eventually disbarred. Arpaio’s office was accused of shoddy
police work that targeted political adversaries, including officials and judges
who were investigated but weren’t charged with crimes.

In the first of two cases against Stapley, he was accused of making omissions
and misstatements on financial disclosure forms, but those charges were
dismissed because the county never properly put in place financial disclosure
rules. In the second case, Stapley was accused of getting mortgage loans under
fraudulent pretenses and misusing campaign funds he raised to run for president
of a national association of county officials.

A prosecutor from a neighboring county who was later asked to review Stapley’s
second case concluded that Stapley had committed seven felony violations and
that there was enough evidence to go forward with a prosecution. That prosecutor
ultimately recommended the case not be pursued further, citing concerns about
the conduct of Arpaio’s and Thomas’ offices.

In the New Times case, Thomas dispatched the grand jury investigation to a
special prosecutor, but quickly dropped the charges. He maintained the newspaper
had broken state law when it published Arpaio’s address in 2004 and then
revealed the subpoena. Thomas was named in the New Times lawsuit but was later
dismissed from it.

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