As Arpaio’s Contempt Case Becomes More Complex, A Growing Number Of Lawyers Join In

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 12:35am
Updated: Thursday, September 17, 2015 - 8:33am
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Lawyers representing Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Clockwise from top Left: A. Melvin McDonald, John T. Masterson, Joseph J. Popolizio, partners at Jones, Skelton & Hochuli, P.L.C; Michele M. Iafrate, partner at Iafrate & Associates.

Lawyers are preparing for several days of civil contempt hearings against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and four others that will begin later this month. Since a federal judge initiated the contempt of court proceedings in February, the case has taken surprising turns.

There have been revelations of the sheriff’s secret investigations, attempts to remove the judge from the case, and even allegations of stolen CIA files.  

But another element that makes the contempt case against the sheriff so unusual is how many attorneys and interests are now involved.

“The attorneys that are there don’t even fit on the judge’s side of the bar,” said Andy Jacob, a local attorney who is not directly involved but regularly observes the court hearings. “They have to sit in the audience because there is not enough room. There are just so many people.” 

As the case has grown more complex, more lawyers have joined.

By KJZZ’s count, some 17 law firms and legal groups, plus two different divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice, are currently involved to represent more than a dozen different interests.

There are the lawyers for the plaintiffs. And lawyers for the sheriff and the four other sheriff’s office employees facing contempt of court. Each of the individuals facing contempt has also retained their own criminal defense attorneys at their own expense.   

But it doesn’t end there.

Maricopa County has its own lawyers. So do Arpaio's former attorneys who have withdrawn from the case, as does Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

That is to say, this case has gotten so big, even the lawyers have lawyers.

“Oh, I’ll sit there sometimes and I think, ‘What is the sum total of fees per hour that are generated in this case, and who is paying for it?’” Jacob said.

Maricopa County taxpayers are paying for a lot of it. Taxpayers have already paid about $8 million in legal bills in the underlying racial profiling case since it began eight years ago. That figure includes some of the plaintiffs’ legal bills, since they prevailed in the trial.

In this contempt phase of the case, the county attorney’s office is currently contracting with at least eight private firms to represent county employees and county interests.

KJZZ requested billing records from the county to find out just how much that representation costs. A county spokesperson said it would take weeks or months to get detailed bills from the county attorney's office, since the bills could need to be redacted for attorney-client privilege, but the county did provide records that show each private firm on the case and their billing rates.

Based on the documents provided, KJZZ estimates that every time the various players involved come to court, it costs county taxpayers almost $2,000 an hour in legal bills.  

That estimate does not include the additional fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys the county may have to eventually pay.

“Nobody involved in this case ever envisioned it would get this big,” said Terry Woods, one of the private attorneys hired by the county attorney’s office to work on the case. “It keeps getting bigger, you got more issues, you have to get another lawyer. And the end is not in sight.”  

Woods represents Maricopa County Deputy County Attorneys Tom Liddy and Christine Stutz. They used to be on the sheriff’s legal team, but withdrew in April. They are now being deposed in the contempt case, and therefore need counsel. Woods joined the case in May.

“Since then I have read six million pieces of paper trying to catch up with this just enormous monster,” Woods said. He has billed the county $60,000 so far.

“It is certainly unfortunate the taxpayers, to protect a couple of its employees, has to pay me. But these people’s professional future and their reputations are at stake,” Woods said, referring to his clients. “They are entitled to counsel and they shouldn’t be paying for it out of their own pocket.”

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he’s been forced to appoint more and more private attorneys in this case due to a federal appeals court ruling. The April ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which Montgomery is fighting, said Maricopa County should be a named defendant in the original racial profiling case.

“Once the county was named as a party, I then as the county attorney can’t represent all sides of the defense,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery argues the county and the sheriff can’t have the same attorney because they may be at odds. So he pulled off the deputy county attorneys who once represented the sheriff, and appointed private counsel in their place. And he hired a separate law firm to represent the interests of the county Board of Supervisors. 

That firm, Walker Peskind, has already billed more than $225,000, according to public records generated on Sept. 11.

Jones Skelton and Hochuli, which represents Arpaio and other MCSO staff members, has billed $130,000 in the past year. Iafrate & Associates, which represents the same clients, has billed more than $620,000 since joining the case late last year.

“It is costing a lot, yes,” Montgomery said. But, he said he has to make sure everyone is fairly represented.

“Everybody wants the sheriff’s office, including the sheriff and his command team, to be found in compliance so that we can end the additional expenses that are being incurred,” Montgomery said.  “And at the same time I have got to make sure everyone’s rights protected and due process is followed.”

Meanwhile, there are still many big legal bills ahead. Attorneys are working around the clock this month in long depositions and long hours of document review.

Then all the lawyers will be back in court for at least seven full days when the contempt hearings resume on Sept 23.

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