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Public cost of Maricopa County feud may go higher

Officials who have complained for years about high legal costs tied to the internal power struggle in Arizona’s most populous county have filed legal notices asking for millions in damages, citing emotional stress caused by the political warfare.

Judges, supervisors, employees and one private citizen all say they were wrongfully targeted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas in lawsuits and criminal investigations.

Their damage claims range from $1.75 million to $10 million, and attorneys say the potential settlements would keep Arpaio and Thomas from wrongfully investigating others.

The complaints have been sent to an independent arbiter, who will help decide which claims to reject, which to settle and for how much. If the county rejects the arbiter’s decision, the claimants can then sue.

Representatives for Arpaio and Thomas said the claims were invalid. Those who filed the notices are only looking for a payday, a statement from sheriff’s officials said.

“They represent a preplanned, calculated effort to mock the sheriff’s office,” the statement said. “Our investigations continue.”

Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox were indicted on charges involving financial transactions. After the first indictment against Stapley fell apart, deputies arrested him, and he was re-indicted on charges related to campaign contributions.

Those cases are under review by prosecutors in a different county.

Sheriff’s investigators visited the homes of 71 county employees asking questions.

Thomas and Arpaio then filed a federal civil-racketeering suit against the supervisors, four judges and attorneys who work with the county. That suit accused the county officials and judges of conspiring against Thomas and hindering criminal investigations, including a probe into the criminal-court tower under construction in downtown Phoenix.

Thomas dropped that case and, soon after, resigned to run for attorney general.

So far, the county has paid more than $3.2 million for attorneys, audits and a search of county offices for listening devices.

The claims against Arpaio and Thomas allege malicious prosecution, abuse of process, defamation, violation of constitutional rights, ruined reputations and other complaints.

Most say the stress of the investigations caused health problems, and those who filed them say they became anxious and afraid, and couldn’t sleep or eat.

The county generally has two months to review and act on a claim.

Attorney Michael Manning, who represents some of the claimants, said his clients will go to trial if the county doesn’t settle. He said the figures in the claims were calculated based on things like earning capabilities and health effects.

“You look at the damage done to each one of them,” he said. “None of our clients are in this to win money that they don’t deserve.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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