Former Maricopa County Assessor Kevin Ross wants some kind of payback for his 2004 election defeat, which came as a result of what he calls a malicious felony prosecution by state Attorney General Terry Goddard.
The perfect revenge would be for Ross to campaign for assessor again this year, lay out the story for voters of how he was done wrong and win back the office. But the kind of vindication that Ross is looking for seems to require a lot of taxpayer money — at least $8 million — and involves spending a lot more time at the courthouse to get it.
As Tribune writer Mark Flatten reported last week, Ross has filed notice that he will sue Goddard, current Assessor Keith Russell, the county as a whole and just about anyone else who had the tiniest connection to the felony case that eventually fell apart.
Ross got into trouble when he struck a deal with a private lending broker to market reverse mortgages to older homeowners who were poor enough to qualify for special protection on property tax valuations prepared by the assessor’s office. Goddard’s prosecution had problems as well after Ross was able to prove such details are public record and could be made available to anyone. But that private broker certainly thought there was an advantage to including Ross in the business plan, if only to get the information from the assessor’s office faster and easier.
After a criminal trial, a jury said Ross violated the state’s conflict-of-interest law. The Arizona Court of Appeals later threw out that felony conviction.
Even if technically legal, it’s unseemly for public officials to profit privately from personal information collected and stored by their offices. From the beginning, Ross should have refused to get involved with the mortgage marketing. He didn’t, and events spun out of his control.
Perhaps some level of government should compensate Ross for his legal expenses, which he has told Flatten exceeded $100,000. But Ross is seeking millions because of the damage to his public reputation — something far more valuable and at the same time intangible.
Ross’ image really can only be restored by voters at the ballot box, not through a civil lawsuit unlikely to wipe away the taint of a criminal jury’s verdict against him.