Maricopa County Issues

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Arizona Republic reporter JJ Hensley will sort out the myriad of infighting going on in Maricopa County government.

Ted Simons: Infighting among Maricopa County officials remains at unprecedented leves, with allegations and legal actions flying back and forth. Criticism of Maricopa County's political mess is even coming from officials outside the county. Joining me now for the latest on all this is J.J. Hensley, who covers county politics for the Arizona Republic. Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

J.J. Hensley: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: We had a stay now in the case against judge Donahoe, correct?

J.J. Hensley: Yeah, that was yesterday. It came out of Pinal County. Judge O'Neil down there granted the stay, pending the outcome of the Supreme Court's decision on whether Andrew Thomas is conflicted in prosecuting Donahoe. He based the stay using four criteria, he said: public interest, likelihood of success, balance of harm, and irreparable harm. He did all of this without passing judgment on the merits of the case. The irreparable harm, though, the interesting thing he mentioned was the irreparable harm that could be done to the justice system.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

J.J. Hensley: And then he granted the stay, so the Supreme Court will take up the matter whether Thomas is conflicted in prosecuting Donahoe.

Ted Simons: And that will put on hold any mug shots, fingerprinting and all that business, correct?

J.J. Hensley: Exactly, so there will be no perp walk.

Ted Simons: Does the stay suggest though, as you mentioned, it seems to suggest that there could be success on the Supreme Court with this. Does it look like a little bit of a suggestion there.

J. J. Hensley: I suppose it's depending on how you read into it.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

J.J. Hensley: I mean, I know Donahoe's supporters, Thomas opponents are definitely hopeful of that. But I mean, when he issued the stay he was careful to say he wasn't doing anything on the merits on the case, it was all about these four criteria and how they figured it in his decision.

Ted Simons: And again the Supreme Court in March will finally figure that one out.

J.J. Hensley: Right. They'll take that up in March.

Ted Simons: Are you hearing anything from retired Chief Justice Ruth MacGregor who now is an overseer on all this business? Any hearings, any meetings coming out there?

J.J. Hensley: She's playing it close to the vest, which I think is why she was given this task of riding herd over these conflicts. You know, both sides, whether she was appointed to this role as special master, said they were pleased with it, and hoped that she could finally cut of sort through all of the legal machinations that have been going on over the last few months. So one of her first decisions -- judge O'Neal, who made the decision yesterday, everything now is coming in front of her, which should hopefully prevent constant calls of conflict that have been in the rising from either Thomas or the judges or anyone else who's involved.

Ted Simons: And again what is her role? What can she do, what can't she do as special master here?

J.J. Hensley: Right now -- in theory she could probably take these things under advisement, but she reviewing the issues and farming them out to other justices around the state right now.

Ted Simons: We've had county attorneys now from Yavapai county, Pinal county coming up against the county attorney's office and sheriff's department. Are there any more out there? Are you hearing anything from other parts of the state?

J.J. Hensley: Not so far. Sheila Polk and James Walsh are the two that came out, this was leading up to Christmas, Polk actually had the case for six months, and reviewed it. She was fairly familiar with it, though the sheriff's office says she has no idea what she was talking about. She did review the case for six months, and wrote a letter that was pretty strongly worded saying that they were doing irreparable harm to the justice system. Walsh kind of followed on her heels and he said I support her, he's a democrat, which Arpaio's people were quick to point out. Interestingly, though, everyone said, they're going to be indicted immediately, they've come out talking against these guys, which is what happens. They were both out of the country when the letters appeared --

Ted Simons: I also noticed that Maricopa County attorney's office was critical, especially of Walsh in the sense that they accuse him of poisoning of the jury pool by making his statements. My question is, does that mean any statements regarding anything would poison the jury pool? If that's the case, we've heard a lot of statements coming out of the sheriff's department and the county attorney's office as well.

J.J. Hensley: Yes. That means they're -- their organization is known to fight their battles publicly. Everything from Stapley's original indictment from -- I don't think anyone gave a lot of credence to their complaint that Walsh was poisoning the jury pool. The issue I suppose for them was that he is saying this and at least one of these cases is down there now, so he could potentially be impacting that, but they really didn't give his letter much credence because he wasn't -- they said Polk wasn't familiar with the case, she had had it for six months, and Walsh has only read what Polk said--

Ted Simons: We've seen the release of the deposition of sheriff Joe Arpaio. Nine hours. 300-some-odd pages if you want to go through it as opposed to watch it. What did we learn?

J.J. Hensley: Boy. I think the headline was that he hasn't read the book that he coauthored last year. He told me, I looked -- lived it, why would I need to read it? That's his explanation. I think the picture that emerged from that interview, it was in the racial profiling lawsuit, which there are five residents in Maricopa County in the ACLU and some other organizations that have brought it. I think that the thing that came out of that that was most striking was just how much authority he delegated to his undersheriffs or chief deputies, things like that. Particularly on issues that are high-profile and in court. He hadn't read the complaint that he was there giving this nine hour deposition for-- he said, my legal team takes care of that. But I think people were struck by that.

Ted Simons: Yeah, and also I know that there were no racial profiling training apparently for deputies, and the sheriff basically didn't think it was necessary.

J.J. Hensley: Yeah, Doesn't need it. That could be one of the outcomes of this case for the justice department's civil investigation into allegations that racial profiling -- that's really -- that's one of the key things that could out of that investigation, they're saying sheriff, here's how you can do a better job of being sheriff, and one of those things could easily be institute some training on racial profiling.

Ted Simons: The plaintiff's attorney, David Bodney, well known in media circles, certainly. What do you think he was trying to show?

J. J. Hensley: Well, he's our attorney at the Republic. He serves a many of the media outlets here. I don't know exactly what he's trying to show. Arpaio's attorney said, look, they are -- they're losing this case so their attack now is to go after a celebrity in this case, that celebrity is the sheriff, and try to embarrass him publicly. I think the Bodney would say he's probably trying to show that this man has no idea what's going on in his operation, and lets his undersheriffs and chief deputies take care of things, and they're not the elected officials that who should be responsible for making these big decisions.

Ted Simons: It seemed like there was a lot of repeated questions as well about whether or not this was done for the media, or whether or not this was done to get into how much the media and the sheriff's fascination with the media, or relationship with the media, factors into some of the stuff he does.

J.J. Hensley: Yeah, that was an interesting thing out of that deposition. A lot of his answers were "I don't know," "you'll have to ask Brian sands" my chief deputy," the only things he could really talk about in depth were press releases he's issued, interviews he's done, newspaper stories, magazine articles he's been in, things like that. So, yeah, his relationship with the media seemed to figure heavily in his testimony.

Ted Simons: Last question on the deposition, it seems as though one of the stories, one of the bigger stories that has come out of this is not so much what you can read, but what you can see. And the view of the sheriff not so much as he is a press conferences, but as anyone would be, I imagine, in front of an attorney taking a deposition.

J.J. Hensley: Right. Nine hours. It was a long day for him. I think that was what some of the other media in town latched on to, was this picture of Arpaio as not the blustery tough-talking, blow-hard sheriff that people, the public typically sees, either in press conferences or speeches he might give, but someone who is very reserved and kind of reticent to say much, and very -- didn't raise his voice, didn't get angry. A lot of the characteristics that we are used to seeing from Arpaio weren't evident. But, he says, in a deposition, you want to give the attorneying as little to go on as possible, to I -- so I didn't see anything more than I had to.

Ted Simons: OK. The role of county board looks like it's going to be up for revision this next legislative session. What's going on here? This looks like it's targeted toward Maricopa County but it will affect boards throughout the state?

J.J. Hensley: This is Russ sell pierce's legislation, brought up last year and died in a committee. What we do right now is kind of anyone's guess. He says it would allow elected county officials to have sort of ultimate control over their budgets once that pot of money was given to them by the board of supervisors. The concern from some of the folks we talked to is that this would allow sort of silo- governments to form, so that the sheriff's office, the treasurer's office, the county attorney's office would with all have their own purchasing, hiring, procurement, all these different departments within them that are now kind of under the umbrella of county, the county government in general.

Ted Simons: Yeah, these freestanding governments for elected officials, and it sounds like other parts of the state are not too pleased with this legislation.

J.J. Hensley: Pierce says he has the support of five sheriffs. He said he didn't want to name them. I called around and couldn't find any, but I didn't get a hold of all the sheriffs out there. The sheriff in Pima county, though, is adamantly opposed to it, he says sometimes working with the board of supervisors through financial issues is painful, but it's necessary.

Ted Simons: Tomorrow we're going to have supervisor Stapley on this program, and we're going to talk as much as we can about things going on with the county. But it sounds as well like tomorrow supervisor Stapley will be named chairman of the board of supervisors. Correct?

J.J. Hensley: Yeah. He's coming back to be the chairman. It's a rotating position, and the supervisors elect one of their own each year to serve in that role. So he was there two years ago, one year ago, and then Andy Kunasek's been there for the last year.

Ted Simons: And this is -- pardon me if I'm wrong, mostly ceremonial position, but would I imagine having him as the chairman is somewhat a message driven.

J.J. Hensley: Yeah. I think you're right, that it is probably largely ceremonial. He is still one vote among five on the board. But, yeah, there's definitely a sense that it's thumbing their nose at the county attorney and the sheriff to name an indicted supervisor as the board.

Ted Simons: It sounds like a lot of things are going on. Is there a little lull happening right now or are we getting ready to kick off another round of allegations and cross allegations?

J.J. Hensley: I think we always expected something to happen in the weeks leading up to the new year, and things slowed down a little bit, so maybe the detectives took some time off to spend with their families. Who knows what the New Year holds?

Ted Simons: Good to have you. Thanks for joining us.

J.J. Hensley: Thank you.

JJ Hensley:Arizona Republic;

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