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Sheriff ordered to pay legal fees in records fight

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio denies any wrongdoing at a press conference Thursday. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has been ordered to pay The Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV Channel 12 nearly $51,000 in legal fees they spent in a fight to access public records.

The sheriff’s office says it will appeal the ruling, reported by the Republic in Saturday’s editions.

The media partners owned by Gannett Co. filed public records requests in April for records of a probe into allegations of mismanagement and retaliation.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office conducted a six-month investigation into the allegations contained in an internal memo authored by a whistleblower inside the department. That investigation also found that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crime cases, including dozens in El Mirage, over a two-year period because of poor oversight and because former Chief Deputy David Hendershott hoped to protect a key investigator from bad publicity.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio initially refused to release any records and declined to say when they would be made available to the public. That prompted the suit.

The Sheriff’s Office began to release parts of the report after the suit was filed, and after Hendershott and Deputy Chief Larry Black resigned in the wake of the investigation’s findings.

But portions of the report relating to the conduct of Capt. Joel Fox were not released, with the office citing confidentiality statutes. Fox was fired and he appealed, but the office continued to withhold records relating to his conduct.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Judge Buttrick ruled in favor of the news organizations, and on Dec. 1 he ruled that the Sheriff’s Office must pay $50,565 to the media partners.

“The court’s award recognizes the public’s right to prompt access to public records, especially a report involving allegations of high-level corruption inside the Sheriff’s Office,” said David Bodney, an attorney who represented The Republic and 12 News.

Tom Liddy, an attorney for Arpaio, said The Republic and 12 News are not entitled to attorney fees because the records were released to the public as soon as the law permitted.

“The sheriff clearly recognizes and applauds the public’s right to know,” Liddy said.

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

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