Attorney General Terry Goddard is accused of using false testimony and withholding evidence as part of what former Maricopa County Assessor Kevin Ross says was a malicious prosecution of him.
The $8 million civil claim filed last week is against Goddard, the attorney general’s office, Maricopa County, and various current and former state and county officials.
Ross was indicted by Goddard’s office in May 2004 on three felony charges alleging he misused confidential information in the assessor’s office for a business venture. Ross beat two of the charges at trial. His lone conviction was overturned when the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Ross’ actions did not violate the state’s conflict-of-interest law since the information was a public record.
Ross lost his re-election bid in the September 2004 Republican primary to Keith Russell, who is also named as a defendant.
“Let’s get the facts on the table and see if the public thinks it was acceptable,” Ross said Thursday of Goddard’s actions. “This was malicious. This was nasty, and I’m not going to walk away. You can’t use a powerful position like the attorney general’s office to take out people. It’s too much power.”
Goddard released a statement defending the prosecution of Ross, noting that he was convicted by a jury of one felony charge. “We believe this claim is without merit, and we will defend vigorously against it,” Goddard said. “Mr. Ross was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers. Though the Court of Appeals came to a different conclusion, I remain convinced that the prosecution was warranted.”
Andrea Esquer, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the agency would have no further comment.
Ross used a compact disc from his office that contained the names and addresses of elderly, low-income homeowners who qualified for a special property tax break in a business venture in early 2003. The assessor’s office sets property values for tax purposes. The part-time job was legal, so long as it did not interfere with his duties as assessor.
Goddard’s prosecutors alleged the information on the disc was confidential. Ross broke conflict-of-interest laws by obtaining the information and using it for his own benefit, the indictment alleged. Ross was also indicted on a charge that he attempted to interfere with the criminal investigation.
The trial judge ruled the information on the disc was a public record after Ross’ lawyers showed it had long been available on the assessor’s Web site.
In his notice of claim, a legal hurdle that must be filed before a government agency can be sued, Ross alleges Goddard and his prosecutors knew the information was available as public record, but withheld that information from the grand jury that issued the indictment. Goddard also issued a press release falsely claiming Ross used confidential financial information from his office, which he never did, according to the claim.
The defendants have 60 days to respond before a lawsuit can be filed, said Michael Kitchen, Ross’ lawyer.
Ross said Maricopa County is named in the claim because the county should be liable for his legal expenses. Since the prosecution hinged on his release of a public record, Ross said it relates to his official actions as assessor.
Russell was named because of a meeting he had during the investigation with two key prosecution witnesses who worked for Ross. Those witnesses, David Bailey and Fred Kelley, were given jobs in Russell’s administration, but have since left the office. They are also named as potential defendants in Ross’ claim.
Paul Petersen, spokesman for Russell, said the current assessor had nothing to do with the investigation or prosecution of Ross. Russell was a private citizen running for office when Ross was charged, Petersen said.
“If there’s any blame, that responsibility lies with the agency that prosecuted him,” Petersen said. “That is Mr. Goddard and the attorney general’s office.”