Three Maricopa County agencies have filed suit against the Board of Supervisors this month alleging the governing panel is overstepping its legal bounds.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is the latest to sue. In Superior Court documents filed Wednesday, he asked the court to declare as illegal the board’s new policy that it, not Thomas, has final say over which attorneys represent the county.
“The Board of Supervisors’ actions are not only unlawful, they are against the public interest,” said Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant attorney for the county.
County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling filed a lawsuit on June 1, and Dr. Philip Keen, the county’s chief medical examiner, filed a lawsuit on Friday.
Board Chairman Don Stapley, R-District 2 of Mesa, Gilbert and Scottsdale, said he is disappointed Thomas decided to sue.
“Whatever his agenda is, I haven’t figured it out,” Stapley said.
Lotstein said the county attorney is charged with representing the jurisdiction in civil court and criminal prosecutions.
Sometimes the county attorney will choose private attorneys to deal with a legal matter because the office, for one reason or another, cannot. The county attorney traditionally would consult the board in such cases, but Thomas’ office always had final say on which private attorney would do the work, Lotstein said.
Under the board’s new policy, the supervisors can determine which lawyers can handle legal matters — whether they’re with a private firm or the county.
Thomas released a statement saying he will appoint private attorneys for the Dowling and Keen lawsuits because he can’t defend the board in good conscience for “causes that I believe are, at best, questionable as a matter of law and public policy.”
In her suit, Dowling alleges that a board resolution to close county-operated
schools for the homeless is illegal.
In his suit, Keen argues that an organizational restructuring of his office was illegal.
County Manager David Smith recently took away Keen’s administrative duties and left him in charge of only medical staff after his office exceeded its $4 million budget by an estimated $8,000.
Stapley said he was shocked by Thomas’ position in the two lawsuits, especially in the case of Dowling, whose financial management of the school district is the focus of a sheriff’s office investigation.