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Judge postpones appeal on SCA fine

A judge has postponed until next month an appeal by the only known member of a group that was fined $315,000 for violating campaign finance laws.
Joel Fox, a captain with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, argued during a Feb. 4 administrative hearing that the fine was improperly levied against him. Fox, who created the Sheriff’s Command Association and managed its money, said he was not given a chance to comply with elections laws prior to being fined.
“There should be an opportunity for compliance before a fine is levied,” he said in the hearing. “The statute is clearly constructed that way.”
But Jeffrey Messing, an attorney representing the Maricopa County Elections Department, said county officials gave Fox multiple opportunities to provide the campaign finance documents they determined he was required to file.
And the portion of the law that allows for an appeal prior to a fine does not apply in this case, Messing said, because there is an exemption in that law if there is a specific penalty proscribed in statute. In this case, campaign finance laws require a fine of three times the amount improperly reported, Messing said.
“The first rule of statutory construction is that you can’t ignore the language the Legislature used (in the law),” he said.
Administrative Law Judge Thomas Shedden said he would issue a ruling on Fox’s argument at a later date. A hearing has been scheduled for March 31 to determine whether the Sheriff’s Command Association’s $105,000 contribution to the Republican Party made the organization a political committee, and thus subject to campaign finance laws.
After the pre-conference hearing ended, Fox told reporters his case rests on a disagreement over a point of law. He likened it to police officers wanting to search a home without a search warrant.
“You shouldn’t have to let them in if they don’t have a warrant,” he said.
Fox also brushed off the requirement to identify who gave him the money that was eventually given to the Republican Party. Although the state GOP later returned the money to Fox, critics have accused the GOP of using the money to fund a series of negative campaign ads against the Democratic opponents of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
“If I didn’t think their names would end up in the paper tomorrow, I’d have given them to (Messing) a long time ago to get this over with,” Fox said. “(The media is) going to take the names and associate them with something they had nothing to do with … They’ll suffer because their names are going to be associated with those commercials.”
He accused the media of reporting only “one side of the story” about his group’s contribution, but refused to provide proof that the money he gave to the Republican Party was collected over several years – as he has stated – and not funneled through SCA to hide where it came from.
“In court, I have a fair hearing… in the press, they can say whatever they want about me and I have no recourse,” he said.
Fox conceded that it “may have been (the) wrong decision” to give the money to the Republican Party. Although he originally formed the group to fight negative media depictions of sheriff’s deputies and detention officers, Fox said he felt any attempts to do so would be unfairly linked to Arpaio’s re-election campaign.
“I thought, it’s more money than I need to have. I’ll give it to someone who knows what to do with it,” he said. 

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