Comparing Two Arizona Scandals

A Phoenix newspaper investigation in November found that Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Banta appeared to have abused his expense account by several tens of thousands of dollars. Valley Metro is the metropolitan Phoenix public mass transit district that manages the local bus and light rail system.

Banta subsequently resigned and the district’s new interim CEO, Eric Anderson, told the district’s governing boards that Valley Metro’s travel budget will be reduced and all employee travel expenses will be scrutinized from now on. The City of Phoenix, the largest contributor to the district’s budget, is conducting an audit of all of the organizations travel expenses back to 2010.

Valley Metro operates with public funding, so there was justifiable outrage when Banta’s inappropriate expenditures were revealed, especially from local conservative politicians. The three most conservative members of the Phoenix City Council sent a letter to Arizona State Attorney General Mark Brnovich calling for a criminal investigation into Banta’s spending. Brnovich, also a conservative Republican, responded by recently announcing that his office will conduct a criminal investigation of Banta’s questionable expenditures.

Conservative Republican state Rep. Warren Petersen also reacted to the scandal by announcing he will introduce legislation to crack down on public officials who commit fraud and misappropriate public funds. “Termination from a high position in government office should not be like winning the Lotto,” Petersen said. He was referring to the fact that Banta will still be entitled to a $265,000 annuity that was part of his employment contract. There’s already a state law that disqualifies government employees convicted of felonies committed while they’re on the job from collecting a state retirement pension, but Petersen says his proposal will go further.

Joe Arpaio
Joe Arpaio (Phoenix New Times)

In the meantime, malfeasance by conservative Republican Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio since he assumed office in 1993 has cost county taxpayers an estimated $142 million in legal settlements, court awards and legal fees.

Furthermore, in 2013 U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio’s office was guilty of violating the constitutional rights of Latino drivers by stopping them for essentially “driving while brown.” The judged ordered Arpaio’s office to cease using race or ancestry as a grounds to stop, detain or hold occupants of vehicles.

The sheriff’s office didn’t comply, so in January of 2015 Judge Snow announced he was initiating civil contempt charges against Arpaio for failing to follow his orders. One of the things that was revealed during the court testimony was that Arpaio paid at least $250,000 in public funds to a Seattle investigator before he figured out the investigator was a con artist. The plaintiffs in the case submitted evidence that Arpaio paid the investigator to see if Judge Snow was participating in a conspiracy against him. Mike Zullo, a member of one of Arpiao’s volunteer posses, oversaw the operation and testified in court that the investigation wasn’t intended to hurt the judge. Arpaio may have committed perjury too when he first denied any knowledge of the investigation and then later testified he knew about it. This prompted Judge Snow to declare in court that Arpaio, “has not been fully forthcoming with this court.” After testimony concluded in contempt hearings Judge Snow warned that a criminal contempt case my result from the testimony of Arpaio and his minions.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is controlled by Republicans, has failed to take any actions against Arpaio. Instead, they recently raised property taxes and one of the reasons was to help pay the additional bills the county has incurred as a result of Arpaio’s offensive behavior.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich hasn’t yet announced that he’s investigating Arpaio. The same can be said for conservative Republican Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

It’s obvious there are two types of government scandals in Arizona, and local conservative politicians and media outlets are deciding which ones matter the most.

Updates

On November 8, 2016, Maricopa County voters finally wised-up to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and voted him out of office by a margin of 66 to 44 percent.

On July 31, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton found Joe Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt of court for violating a court order to stop racial profiling by his deputies.

On August 25, 2017, President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

On September 10, 2018, former Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta pleaded guilty to misusing public money on dining and travel expenses.

On November 20, 2018, former Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta was sentenced to probation and a $6,000 fine.

Maricopa County Attorney’s Prosecution Priorities Are Skewed

Bill Montgomery
Bill Montgomery (Wikipedia)

On November 19th, due to misconduct by county prosecutors, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sally Duncan ordered the dismissal of a first-degree murder indictment against Jeffrey Martinson for the death of his 5-year-old son Josh in 2004.

Judge Duncan wrote a 28-page summary of the county prosecution team’s misconduct. It described how the team, led by Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Frankie Grimsman, had “engaged in a pattern and practice of misconduct designed to secure a conviction.” The judge dismissed the indictment without prejudice, meaning the Arizona man cannot be retried for the murder because of double jeopardy.

According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, the county’s cost of prosecuting the case was already $2.97 million in July. It’s undoubtedly more than $3 million by now, and may continue to grow if Republican County Attorney Bill Montgomery decides to appeal Judge Duncan’s decision.

Grimsman isn’t the only Deputy Maricopa County Attorney to commit misconduct. A 2013 investigation by the Arizona Republic found many complaints about prosecutorial misconduct in Montgomery’s department. The Arizona Supreme Court has repeatedly documented instances of prosecutorial misconduct by Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez. Montgomery has taken no action against Martinez.

Now let’s compare that situation to the county’s defense of Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio against accusations that his neighborhood “crime sweeps” were discriminatory against Latinos. In May of this year Federal Judge G. Murray Snow found Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office guilty of violating the civil rights of Latinos in the neighborhoods where the sweeps occurred. In essence, the judge found that sheriff deputies committed racial profiling – stopping people for “driving while brown.”

Judge Snow also ordered Arpaio’s department to cooperate in creating a plan to remedy the situation. But Arpaio willfully failed to fully comply with that requirement, so in October Judge Snow issued a final order, with strict prescriptions as to how Arpaio must change the way business is done in his office.

Maricopa County will have to pay the fees for the ACLU attorneys who brought the successful lawsuit against Arpaio. These lawyers have estimated their expenses at about $7.3 million. As you might expect, Arpaio’s county lawyers objected and labeled the amount, “outrageous, unreasonable, excessive and redundant,” which means the amount of money the taxpayers will spend to defend Arpaio’s illegal activities will increase.

So let’s summarize the legal landscape in Maricopa County. It’s OK for the county to spend more than $3 million to illegally prosecute a murder case against a citizen, but it’s not OK to spend $7.3 million to help the ACLU defend citizens whose civil rights are being violated by county law enforcement officers. Either way, county taxpayers are on the hook for more than $10 million.

Updates

On December 22, 2016, the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, an association of nearly 500 defense attorneys, filed a complaint with the State Bar of Arizona against Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez, alleging he exhibited a pattern and practice of ethical violations and prosecutorial misconduct.

On September 12, 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court’s Presiding Disciplinary Judge William O’Neill dismissed the complaints against Martinez after very a brief hearing.

On December 7, 2017, the State Bar of Arizona appealed the dismissal of the complaints against Martinez by Judge O’Neill to the entire Supreme Court.

On March 9, 2018, the complaints against Martinez were reinstated. Previously, on March 7, new allegations were filed with the State Bar against Martinez.

On May 8, 2018, County Attorney Bill Montgomery sent a letter to local police departments telling them he was in charge of which records they could release to the public, including police body cam footage, and that he would indemnify them if they get sued for violating the state’s public records law.

On May 25, 2018, the Phoenix Police Department said it would ignore Montgomery’s demand in order to continue to promote more government transparency.

On September 12, 2018, a State Bar of Arizona investigator asked a state bar committee to consider disciplinary action against Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez because of allegations that he had interacted with women inappropriately.

On September 28, 2018, County Attorney Bill Montgomery compared the Democratic Senators on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to, “a pack of hyenas.”

On November 5, 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court’s Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee authorized the State Bar counsel to prepare and file a formal complaint against Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez.

On November 27, 2018, Bill Montgomery’s Maricopa County Attorney’s Office agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Leslie Allen Merritt Jr., the man authorities had accused in a series of shootings on Phoenix freeways in 2015 before charges against him were dropped.

On December 2, 2018, the Arizona Republic newspaper reported that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery had told one of their reporters that his office had recently completed an internal investigation of Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez and disciplined him based on the findings. The paper also reported that the County Attorney’s office had failed to respond to a public records request for Martinez’ personnel files.

On December 11, 2018, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery tried to explain why he had failed to provide public records pertaining to his disciplinary actions against Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez.