Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Welcome to Arizona... meet our sheriff

Legal woes may be helping Arpaio see error of ways

Late last month, Arpaio and interim Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan organized an astonishing media event that included lengthy video clips of Arpaio deputies man-handling a restrained inmate at the psychiatric ward of the county jail.

But without diminishing the gravity of this nasty incident, the real issue is not a violent outburst by some rogue employee. It is the astonishing and now-growing cost to the public of Arpaio's unique brand of bluster - his famous "critics be damned" attitude that may play great on the 10 p.m. news but nevertheless is emptying the backside pockets of county taxpayers.

It is not just the $5.6 million in legal fees wracked up in the course of Arpaio's recent (and ongoing) court battles with the county supervisors.

Compared with settlements in inmate lawsuits, those fees are peanuts.

By one 3-year-old estimate, inmate lawsuits under Arpaio's watch have cost in excess of $41 million, an amount many times greater than lawsuit settlements paid by much larger communities that handle much larger prisoner populations.

And the legal costs just keep piling up. On Tuesday, five former and current Superior Court judges and county officials filed their long-anticipated suits against the county, alleging false criminal investigations and harassment.

Together, the officials are seeking in excess of $13 million. Other lawsuits resulting from Arpaio's war against county management may be on the way.

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