Courthouse News Service
by Jamie Ross
April 17, 2012
PHOENIX (CN) – A former attorney for Maricopa County claims in Federal Court that county management violated her constitutional rights by retaliating against her to “reward political friends,” including opponents of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Maria Brandon and her husband claim that while a feud between Maricopa County, Arpaio and Thomas escalated, county management “sought to punish Arpaio and Thomas politically by paying more than necessary to settle his claims and lawsuits and then publicly blaming the costs on Arpaio and on Thomas and their mismanagement.”
Brandon worked as an attorney for the county’s Special Litigation division until April 18, 2011, when it was closed and she was brought to the Civil Services Division.
Brandon claims Risk Manager Rocky Armfield “made efforts to negate, intimidate, and to retaliate against Special Litigation attorneys exercising their independent judgment, violating his ethical duties to the Maricopa County self-insured trust.”
According to the complaint, in February 2010 “Risk Management adjuster Jacquie Garrett, who was assigned to adjust three lawsuits filed by a group of seven anti-Arpaio protestors arising from incidents on December 15th and 17th, and Brandon decided requested settlement authority of $7,500 for each protestor, a total of $52,500.”
Armfield sent Brandon an email in April 2010 stating that “he had obtained additional authority of up to $100,000 per protestor, and that he was adding the claim of Randy Parraz, a political activist who was not arrested or a participant on December 15th and December 17th and had not yet filed a lawsuit,” according to the complaint.
Brandon, who was the attorney assigned to the MCSO and MCAO defendants on these cases, says Armfield did this without her knowledge.
She says in the complaint that The Arizona Republic got a copy of a confidential attorney-client email between her and then-Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy David Hendershott, which claimed that the county “had no intention of giving away a lot of money. The Republic “published a front page article regarding the settlement amount of $424,700 for seven protestors who were booked and released, and where there were no claims of excessive force or physical injuries. One protestor, who had not been booked or taken to jail but had only received a citation in the mail, received $24,700 in settlement funds at the mediation,” according to the complaint.
Brandon, who says she did not provide the newspaper with a copy of the email, was quoted in the interview as saying about the settlement: “I don’t know why they did what they did, and I’m sure they have their reasons.”
After the article was published, Brandon says, Armfield retaliated against her by pulling cases from her.
On Aug. 30, 2010, Armfield advised “Special Litigation that Risk Management would be issuing reservation of rights letters on cases where claims for punitive damages were asserted. Since punitive damages were normally claimed in civil rights’ cases, MCSO deputies and detention officers sued by inmates would receive these letters. The letters warned those sued that they may have to pay damages out of their own pockets,” according to the complaint.
Concerned with the ethical issues presented by the reservation of rights letters, Brandon says in her complaint that Special Litigation “researched the issue and eventually asked outside counsel at Lewis Brisbois for an opinion as to their ethical obligations vis a vis their clients. Upon receiving the Lewis Brisbois opinion, the director of Special Litigation wrote a letter to Rocky Armfield outlining the issues and the opinion from Lewis Brisbois. The Special Litigation letter further angered Rocky Armfield, and he sent Special Litigation a letter demanding that they disregard the Lewis Brisbois opinion, or else immediately return all risk cases to Risk Management.”
Brandon claims Armfield then “refused to send any risk cases at all to Special Litigation; all risk cases where representation of the Sheriff or County Attorney was required were sent to outside counsel at additional taxpayer expense.”
Brandon says she was later placed on probation, dismissed and reinstated before she was fired in June 2011 for reporting that a support staff member had grabbed her arm and yelled at her.
She seeks general litigation damages and punitive damages for violations of due process, of the First Amendment, tortious interference with contract, and employment law violations.
Named as defendants are Brandon’s supervisor, Tom Liddy and his wife, Rocky Armfield and his wife, and Maricopa County.
The Brandons are represented by Larry Cohen.