Maricopa County Assessor Paul Petersen’s suspension remains in limbo after roughly two hours of testimony Wednesday afternoon.
Petersen, who was not present at today’s hearing, is appealing his 120-day suspension.
Kory Langhofer, who is representing the County Assessor, explained his client’s absence by saying he is saving his testimony for his criminal proceedings, which are ongoing in three states.
Petersen is accused of paying women from the Marshall Islands to deliver their babies in the U.S. and of organizing the children’s adoption to American families. He is charged with smuggling and adoption fraud in Arkansas and Utah, and with defrauding the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System in Arizona.
Langhofer had planned to call several witnesses, but only had Chief Deputy Assessor Tim Boncoskey and Russell Pearce testify. Pearce currently works under County Treasurer Royce Flora. Flora and others from his office attended the hearing, but no other elected officials from Maricopa County did.
The county’s supervisors, who unanimously voted to suspend Petersen on Oct. 29, said they won’t rule on his appeal until they see the final investigative report. The county had released its preliminary findings on December 6.
Both the Board and Langhofer gave opening remarks at the hearing. Supervisor Chairman Bill Gates said the statute cited to suspend the County Assessor is only used for that position or the County Treasurer, and therefore anything relating to other elected county officials is “irrelevant to today’s proceeding.”
Gates said Langhofer had been speculating his client was not suspended for “neglect of duty,” but because he was being charged with a crime. Gates insisted they suspended Peterson only on the grounds that he could conduct his official duties while in federal custody for 20 days and for using county resources for non-county business.
The preliminary report, and testimony from Boncoskey, stated that even while Petersen was detained in Arkansas for nearly three weeks, the office ran smoothly and no deadlines were missed. Petersen and his Chief Deputy also spoke on the phone twice about office business during this span of time.
Things started to get testy when the Board’s attorney, John Doran, questioned Langhofer about why Petersen was not present. Langhofer said “there is no need for him to be here today,” adding that he would rely on the preliminary report and witness testimony.
“Only Mr. Petersen knows what he could have or should have done in terms of his day-to-day routine as County Assessor that he didn’t do because he was too busy preparing legal pleadings,” Doran said. “And he’s not here to tell us what he didn’t do.”
Langhofer argued that it should not be up to Petersen to prove his innocence. He cited how nothing in the preliminary report shows he neglected his duties, and added he had not seen anything outside of the report to the contrary.
During his testimony, Boncoskey said the Assessor’s Office is not one person. “I believe every statutory duty of the assessor has been adhered to because that is our job,” he said.
Boncoskey reiterated what the preliminary report concluded, saying the office was able to keep up with deadlines without missing a beat even during Petersen’s “time away.” He said Petersen treats all staff well, attends all necessary meetings, and, when able, he reached out to his office while in custody.
Doran pressed if Boncoskey thinks Petersen had led by example “while he was incarcerated” and for having other people’s personal medical documents and photos on his county computer.
Langhofer objected to both questions.
Pearce testified for two minutes before things wrapped up.
Pearce said the Treasurer’s Office works closely with the Assessor’s Office and said his office has never had a problem working with the other one.
“The only time we had any problem was after the suspension,” Pearce said. But, he said, once he got in touch with the chief deputy assessor, everything was fine.
“It was short lived,” he said of the problem.
Pearce said he thought the Board had probable cause to suspend Petersen while he was incarcerated, but contended that, once released, Petersen has a right to perform the duties of the office he was elected to.
Petersen’s 120-day suspension is set to expire at the end of February unless the Board opts to reverse its October decision.