A former investigator from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office will receive a $99,999 settlement from the state in her lawsuit against Tom Horne and a top deputy, whom she accused of retaliating against her for launching a campaign finance investigation against Horne.
The amount falls just below the $100,000 threshold that would have required the Attorney General’s Office to approve of the settlement. Anything under that amount can be approved solely by the Arizona Department of Administration.
Margaret “Meg” Hinchey had initially sought $10 million in the lawsuit, but the much lower amount does not come as a surprise. The two sides reached an agreement in principle in January, and the Attorney General’s Office confirmed at the time that it would not have to approve the settlement.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, all parties agreed to the dismissal of the case.
Suzanne Dallimore, Hinchey’s attorney, said her client agreed to accept so much less than the $10 million she initially sought because all she really wanted was peace. Dallimore noted that the agreements with the state, Horne and Chief Deputy Attorney General Rick Bistrow include a “non-disparagement clause” that bars the parties from speaking “negatively or untruthfully” about each other.
“People settle to buy peace,” Dallimore said. “She’s never been about the money.”
Dallimore said she believes Hinchey would have prevailed in court if the case had gone to trial. Hinchey had alleged an extensive smear campaign by Bistrow and Horne and a drastic reduction in her status and duties at the Attorney General’s Office after she informed the FBI that Horne may have illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure campaign during his 2010 campaign.
“I think the evidence would have shown that her status changed from a very beloved, well-respected investigator to a pariah following the revelation of her disclosure to the FBI,” she said.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, asserted that Bistrow, Horne and the state would have won had the case gone to trial. She said the Attorney General’s Office would have rejected the settlement amount if it had been up to the office.
“They were absolutely willing to go to trial,” Grisham said. “I think it really says something that she went from $10 million to under $100,000.”
ADOA spokesman Jeff Grant said the settlement is expected to be completed next week.
Horne and aide Kathleen Winn, who in 2010 ran the independent expenditure committee Business Leaders for Arizona, recently concluded a three-day hearing in the campaign finance allegations against them, which were triggered by Hinchey’s revelations to the FBI. An administrative law judge is expected to issue a ruling in April.i