Sunday, May 23, 2010

Valley & State

Two business days before a scheduled public showdown between the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff's Office, nobody appeared to know the ground rules.

The board ordered   and his chief financial officer to appear at 2 p.m. Monday to show why Arpaio should not be held in contempt for refusing to turn over hundreds of thousands of financial documents the board subpoenaed. County officials are concerned funds may have been misspent.

Attorneys for the Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, filed a motion Thursday to postpone the hearing and have a court determine the scope of the board's authority. Those attorneys also appealed to former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor via e-mail, asking her to intervene. As of Thursday afternoon, county officials could not explain in detail how the hearing would work other than to say the format would be similar to a zoning hearing.

Sheriff's attorney L. Eric Dowell said the lack of information gave him little chance to prepare a defense. Dowell said he has permission to attend the meeting, however, the county will refuse to pay his attorney's fees for a court fight.

"If you were going into a real court, even a real zoning hearing, you would have enough information to know how to present your case. You would be able to call witnesses yourself," Dowell said. "The board wants a show, that's what this is about."

The board will designate a hearing officer, said County Manager David Smith. County officials would not release the name of the hearing officer. The officer likely will ask to hear testimony from budget officials and county attorneys to spell out why they want the financial information. Then, sheriff's representatives will be called to explain their side.

No one could explain how the scenario might play out if county officials are dissatisfied with the sheriff's response.

However, the board has threatened the sheriff and chief financial officer Loretta Barkell with contempt and arrest if they do not turn over documents, or if supervisors are dissatisfied with their answers.

No county official could explain who would hold the pair in contempt or who would carry out the arrests.

"We're probably going to need some legal advice," Smith said.

The Republic has learned that attorneys who met privately with the supervisors also suggested a range of administrative actions such as freezing the sheriff's staff credit cards, putting the office's entire budget or certain areas on a line-item budget, or ordering officials to attend auditing or accounting classes.

In a March 30 letter to Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott and Barkell, Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson said she was concerned that restricted funds may have been misspent. Sheriff's officials did not respond.

The board issued a subpoena April 27 and gave Arpaio until May 7 to turn over documents, including detailed credit-card transactions, work assignments, extradition data and all bank accounts dating back to Jan. 1, 2005.

When the sheriff missed that deadline, the board ordered him to a contempt hearing.

Dowell petitioned the Maricopa County Superior Court to hold a hearing today to argue whether Monday's hearing should be postponed to give him time to argue that the board is exceeding its authority and usurping the powers normally afforded a court of law.

Dowell also filed a motion for special action, which is an expedited appeal of a legal proceeding. In the motion, Dowell complained about the lack of procedure for the hearing. And he pointed to apparent conflicts of interest the board has with Arpaio, which should preclude them from holding the hearing. Among those conflicts are investigations conducted by the Sheriff's Office against Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox.

Also, Stapley has filed a $5 million notice of claim against the county alleging false arrest by sheriff's deputies. That claim, Dowell argued, gives Stapley a financial incentive to hold the hearing or at least shows an attempt to retaliate against Arpaio.

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