Board of supervisors, attorney hide DOJ investigation
By Linda Bentley | August 12, 2009
'There is a concern the board has created a shadow county attorney’s office’
PHOENIX – Last week, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) received a copy of a letter dated March 18 from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sent to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (MCBOS) Andrew Kunasek, as chair, informing him the DOJ was “initiating an investigation of a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin (Hispanic) by MCBOS.
The complaint alleges “MCBOS has failed to provide language access for limited English proficient (LEP) persons during its public meetings, either in its main meeting space or in its overflow room in the cafeteria.”
The complainant says he has attended MCBOS meetings at which interpreters were needed but none were provided.
The complaint also alleges speaker forms, public record request forms, formal meeting agendas, website content and announcements directed at the public are only in English and, as a result, LEP persons do not attend MCBOS meetings because no language services are provided.
On Dec. 19, 2007, when a member of the public addressed MCBOS in Spanish during Call to the Public because that person was not provided with an interpreter, the complaint states a member of the board “publicly chastised the individual for speaking in Spanish and announced that Maricopa County ‘followed the laws of Arizona and the United States in official meetings.’”
Another member of the board allegedly stated he was having difficulty understanding the speaker’s remarks, and that it would be preferable if all “things” were either spoken or written in English.
The Arizona Constitution was amended a few years ago and states: “Official actions shall be conducted in English.”
However, the merits of the complaint are not at issue here.
What is at issue is the fact the MCBOS has had this letter from the DOJ, requesting a number of documents, since March 24 but waited until Aug. 5 to provide Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, the only authority who may lawfully provide legal advice to the board, with a copy.
On Tuesday, Thomas sent a letter to Peter Gray, attorney advisor in the Coordination and Review Section of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, acknowledging the letter, while noting the board and its employees improperly withheld the letter, and the fact that the DOJ was investigating the MCBOS, from his office and the public during the past five months, while delaying its response to the DOJ’s requests for information.
Although MCAO provides civil legal advice to Maricopa County agencies, including MCBOS and the county manager, Thomas said, “Unfortunately, recent events have made it very challenging for me to represent the board, as reflected by the fact I must write this letter.”
Thomas called the board “an extremely difficult client,” consisting of five elected supervisors, including Donald Stapley, Jr., who has been indicted on 117 criminal counts for perjury, false swearing and filing incomplete or false financial disclosure statements.
“A second supervisor, Mary Rose Wilcox, is also under criminal investigation, reportedly by both federal and local authorities,” wrote Thomas.
He said, immediately after bringing the indictment against Stapley, the board retaliated against MCAO by “illegally assuming control of all county litigation by hiring an attorney, Thomas Irvine (a former Cave Creek Town Attorney), who is under criminal investigation himself.”
Thomas said the board also hired a criminal defense attorney who is a partner of Irvine’s, to represent the board with respect to public records requests, including documents associated with the investigation of Irvine.
According to Thomas, the county’s new unlawfully created litigation department, formed after Stapley was indicted, was directed to file a pleading for sanctions against the prosecutor in the Stapley case because, according to Thomas, “That prosecutor was seeking a copy of a deposition of Conley Wolfswinkle, a convicted felon who is both a business associate of Mr. Stapley and a former client of Mr. Irvine.”
MCAO spokesperson Barnett Lottstein said, “There is a concern the board has created a shadow county attorney’s office.”
Thomas concluded by saying had his office known about the complaint sooner, it would have responded in a timely manner, adding, “It is regrettable, but not a surprise to me, that the board and county management have mishandled this matter and not responded sufficiently to your investigation.”